To her it was the same with art, though she had realized it only upon coming here. Or rather, remembered it. She had known it once before, and again she cursed herself for forgetting something as important as creating beauty. Painting was what she was meant to do, she was sure of that now. She was going to try it again, no matter what anyone said.
Would Lon encourage her painting? She remembered showing him one of her paintings a couple of months after they had first started going out. It was abstract, meant to inspire thought. Lon had stared at it, and then had asked her what it was supposed to be.
She knew she wasn’t completely fair. She loved Lon for other reasons. Lon was a good man. With him, there would be no surprises, and there was comfort in knowing what the future would bring. He would be a kind husband and she would be a good wife. She would have a home, friends and family, children, a respectable place in society. It was the kind of life she’d always expected to live. And though she wouldn’t describe theirs as a passionate relationship, she had convinced herself long ago that this wasn’t necessary for fulfilment. Passion would fade in time and things like companionship and compatibility would take its place. She and Lon had this, and she had assumed this was all she needed.
But now, as she watched Noah rowing, she questioned this assumption. He radiated sexuality in everything he did, everything he was, and she caught herself thinking about him in a way that an engaged woman shouldn’t.
«Here we are,» Noah said as he guided the canoe towards some trees near the bank.
Allie looked around, not seeing anything. «Where is it?»
«Here,» he said again, pointing the canoe at a fallen tree that was almost completely obscuring an opening.
He guided the canoe around the tree, and both of them had to lower their heads to keep from bumping them.
«Close your eyes,» he whispered, and Allie did, bringing her hands to her face. She felt the movement of the canoe.
«Okay,» he finally said after he’d stopped paddling, «you can open them now.»
THEY SAT in the middle of a small lake fed by the waters of the river. It wasn’t large, maybe a hundred yards across, and she was surprised at how invisible it had been just moments before.
It was spectacular. Swans and geese literally surrounded them. Thousands of them. Birds were floating so close together in some places that she couldn’t see the water. From a distance, the groups of swans looked almost like icebergs.
«Oh Noah,» she finally said softly, «it’s beautiful.»
They sat in silence for a long while, watching the birds. The birds ignored them for the most part. The only ones that seemed bothered were those forced to move when the canoe approached them. Allie reached out to touch the closest ones and felt their feathers under her fingers.
Noah took out the bread he’d brought in his bag and handed it to Allie. She scattered it, laughing and smiling as the birds swam in circles looking for food.
They stayed until thunder boomed in the distance — faint but powerful — and both of them knew it was time to leave.
Noah paddled the canoe back. She was still amazed by what she had seen.
«Noah, what are they doing here?»
«I don’t know. I know the swans from up north migrate to Lake Matamuskeet every winter, but I guess they came here this time. I don’t know why. Maybe they got off track or something. They’ll find their way back, though. They’re driven by instinct, and this isn’t their place. Some of the geese may winter here, but the swans will go back to Matamuskeet.»
Noah paddled hard as dark clouds rolled directly overhead. Soon rain began to fall. Lightning… a pause… then thunder again. A little louder now. Maybe six or seven miles away. More rain as Noah began to paddle even harder; his muscles were tightening with every stroke.
Allie watched the rainfall. The sky darkened a little more. She leaned her head back for a moment to let it hit her face. She ran her hands through her hair, feeling its wetness. It felt wonderful, she felt wonderful. Even through the rain, she could hear him breathing hard, and the sound excited her in a way she hadn’t felt in years.
A cloud burst directly above them and the rain began to come down harder than she’d ever seen it. Allie looked upwards and laughed, giving up any attempt at keeping dry, making Noah feel better. Even though she’d made the decision to come, he doubted that she’d expected to be caught in a storm like this.
They reached the dock a couple of minutes later, and Noah moved in close enough for Allie to step out. He helped her up, then got out himself and dragged the canoe up the bank, tying it to the jetty.
When he finished and stood, Allie took his hands in hers, surprising him. Despite the downpour, they didn’t rush towards the house, and Noah imagined what it would be like to spend the night with her.
Allie felt the warmth in his hands and wondered what it would be like to have them touch her body. Just thinking about it made her take a deep breath. She realized then that something had changed. And she knew that she had fallen in love with Noah Taylor Calhoun again, and that maybe, just maybe, she had never stopped.