«I remember that I was 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 how I spent 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 was also 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 good 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 anymore. 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 he 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, 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 crackling. Then he spread some butter on the bread and melted a bit 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.» 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, and let the crabs 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. After putting some vegetables and bread on their plates, Noah added a crab, and Allie sat for a moment, staring at it. «Here, let me show you how it’s done,» he said.
He made it look easy, removing the meat and putting it on her plate.
They started talking then, making up for lost time. Noah talked about leaving New Bern, about working 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. Neither of them mentioned anybody they had dated since they’d last seen each other. Even Lon was ignored, and though both of them noticed the omission, neither spoke of it.
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 changed anything.
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 though they were not conscious of it, they began to regain the intimacy, the bond of familiarity, they had once shared.