“Are you glad to be back home?”
“Yeah. My roots are here. This is where I’m supposed to be.” He paused. “But what about you?” He asked the question softly, suspecting the worst.
It was a long moment before she answered. “I’m engaged.”
He looked down when she said it, suddenly feeling just a bit weaker. So that was it. That’s what she needed to tell him.
“Congratulations,” he finally said, wondering how convincing he sounded. “When’s the big day?”
“Three weeks. Lon wanted a November wedding.”
“Lon Hammond Junior. My fiancé”
He nodded. The Hammonds were one of the most powerful and influential families in the state. Cotton money. Unlike that of his own father, the death of Lon Hammond Senior had made the front page of the newspaper.
“I’ve heard of them. His father built quite a business. Did Lon take over for him?”
She shook her head. “No, he’s a lawyer. He has his own practice.”
“With his name, he must be busy.”
“He is. He works a lot.”
He thought he heard something in her tone, and the next question came automatically. “Does he treat you well?”
She didn’t answer right away, as if she were considering the question for the first time. Then: “Yes. He’s a good man, Noah. You’d like him.”
Her voice was distant when she answered, or at least he thought it was. Noah wondered if it was just his mind playing tricks on him.
“How’s your daddy doing?” she asked.
Noah took a couple of steps before answering. “He passed on earlier this year, right after I got back.”
“I’m sorry,” she said softly.
He nodded, and they walked on in silence.
They reached the top of the hill and stopped. The oak tree was in the distance, with the sun glowing orange behind it. Allie could feel his eyes on her as she stared in that direction.
“A lot of memories there, Allie.”
She smiled. “I know. I saw it when I came in. Do you remember the day we spent there?”
“Yes,” he answered, volunteering no more.
“Do you ever think about it?”
"Sometimes,” he said. “Usually when I’m working out this way.
It sits on my property now.”
"You bought it?”
I just couldn’t bear to see it turned into kitchen cabinets.”
She laughed under her breath, feeling strangely pleased about that. “Do you still read poetry?
He nodded. “Yeah. I never stopped. I guess it’s in my blood.”
“Do you know, you’re the only poet I’ve ever met.”
“I’m no poet. I read, but I can’t write a verse. I’ve tried.”
“You’re still a poet, Noah Taylor Calhoun.” Her voice softened.
“I still think about it a lot. It was the first time anyone ever read poetry to me. In fact, it’s the only time.”
Her comment made both of them drift back and remember as they slowly circled back to the house, following a new path that passed near the dock.
As the sun dropped a little lower and the sky turned orange, he asked: "So, how long are you staying?”
“I don’t know. Not long. Maybe until tomorrow or the next day.”
"Is your flanc6 here on business?” She shook her head. “No, he’s still in Raleigh.”
Noah raised his eyebrows. “Does he know you’re here?”
She shook her head again and answered slowly. “No. I told him I was looking for antiques. He wouldn’t understand my coming here.”
Noah was a little surprised. It was one thing to come and visit, but it was an entirely different matter to hide the truth from her fiancé.
The gravel crunched beneath their feet as they walked. He asked: “Allie, do you love him?”
She answered automatically. “Yes, I love him.”
The words hurt. But again he thought he heard something in her tone, as if she were saying it to convince herself. He stopped and gently took her shoulders in his hands, making her face him. The fading sunlight reflected in her eyes as he spoke.
“If you’re happy, Allie, and you love him. I won’t try to stop you from going back to him. But if there’s a part of you that isn’t sure, then don’t do it. This isn’t the kind of thing you go into halfway.”
Her answer came almost too quickly. “I’m making the right decision. Noah.”
He stared for a second, wondering if he believed her. Then he nodded and they began to walk again. He said: I’m not making this easy for you, am I.?”
She smiled a little. "It’s okay. I really can’t blame you.”
"I’m sorry anyway."
"Don’t be. There’s no reason to be sorry. I’m the one who should be apologizing. Maybe I should have written.”
He shook his head. "I’m glad you came. It’s good to see you again. You were the best friend I ever had, Allie. I’d still like to be friends, even if you are engaged, and even if it is just for a couple of days. How about we just kind of get to know each other again?”
She thought about it, and decided that since he knew about her engagement, it would probably be all right. Or at least not wrong.
She smiled slightly and nodded. "I’d like that.”
"Good. How about dinner? I know a place that serves the best crab in town.”
"Sounds great. Where?”
"My house. I’ve had the traps out all week, and I saw that I had some good ones caged a couple of days ago. Do you mind?”