Allie, though obviously tired, smiled at her mother. «Thank you,» she said, and her mother reached for her hand.
«I know we’ve had our differences, Allie, and that we haven’t seen eye to eye on everything. But I’m your mother and that means I’ll always love you.»
Allie was silent for a moment, and then asked, «What should I do?»
«I don’t know, Allie. That’s up to you. But I would think about it. Think about what you really want.»
Allie turned away, her eyes were reddening. A moment later, a tear drifted down her cheek. «I don’t know…» Her mother squeezed her hand.
Anne looked at Noah, who had been sitting with his head down, listening carefully. As if reading her mind, he returned her gaze, nodded and left the room.
When he was gone, Anne whispered, «Do you love him?»
«Yes, I do,» Allie answered softly, «very much.»
«Do you love Lon?»
«Yes, I do. I love him, too. Dearly, but in a different way. He doesn’t make me feel the way Noah does.»
«No one will ever do that,» her mother said, and she released Allie’s hand. «I can’t make this decision for you, Allie, this one’s all yours. I want you to know, though, that I love you. And I always will. I know that doesn’t help, but it’s all I can do.»
She reached in her handbag and removed a packet of letters held together with string; the envelopes were old and slightly yellowed.
«These are the letters that Noah wrote to you. I never threw them away, and I didn’t open them. I know, it was wrong of me to keep them from you, and I’m sorry for that. But I was just trying to protect you. I didn’t realize…»
Allie took them and ran her hand over them, shocked.
«I should go, Allie. You’ve got some decisions to make, and you don’t have much time. Do you want me to stay in town?»
Allie shook her head, «No, this is up to me.»
Anne nodded and watched her daughter for a moment. Finally, she stood, went around the table, leaned over and kissed Allie on the cheek. She could see the confusion in her daughter’s eyes as Allie embraced her.
They stood together for another minute, just holding each other.
«Thanks for coming,» Allie said, «I love you.»
«I love you too.»
As her mother left the living room, Allie thought that she heard her whisper, «Follow your heart,» but she couldn’t be sure.
NOAH OPENED the door for Anne Nelson as she went out.
«Goodbye Noah,» she said quietly. He nodded without speaking. There wasn’t anything else to say; they both knew that. She turned from him and left, closing the door behind her. Noah watched her leave without looking back. She was a strong woman, he thought to himself, and he knew then where Allie got it.
Noah peeped into the living room, saw Allie sitting with her head down, then went to the back porch, knowing that she needed to be alone. He sat quietly in his rocker and watched the water.
After a while, he heard the back door open. He didn’t turn to look at her — for some reason he couldn’t — and he listened as she sat in the chair beside him.
«I’m sorry,» Allie said, «I had no idea this would happen.»
Noah shook his head. «Don’t be sorry. We both knew it was coming to some form or another.»
«It’s still hard.»
«I know.» He finally turned to her, reaching for her hand. «Is here anything I can do to make it easier?»
She shook her head. «No. Not really. I have to do this alone. Besides, I’m not sure what I’m going to say to him yet.» She looked down and her voice became softer. «I guess it depends on him and how much he knows. If my mother was right, he may have suspicions, but he doesn’t know anything for sure.»
Noah felt tightness in his stomach. When he finally spoke his voice was steady, but she could hear the pain in it. «You’re not going to tell him about us, are you?»
«I don’t know. I really don’t. While I was in the living room, I was asking myself what I really wanted in my life.» She squeezed his hand. «And do you know what the answer was? The answer was that I want you. I want us. I love you and I always have.» She took a deep breath before going on. «But I also want a happy ending without hurting anyone. And I know that if I stayed, people would be hurt. Especially Lon. I wasn’t lying when I told you that I love him. He doesn’t make me feel the same way you do, but I care for him, and this wouldn’t be fair to him. Staying here would also hurt my family and friends. I would betray everyone I know… I don’t know if I can do that.»
«You can’t live your life for other people. You’ve got to do what’s right for you, even if it hurts some people you love.»
«I know,» she said, «but no matter what I choose I have to live with it. Forever. I have to be able to go forward and not look back any more. Can you understand that?»
He shook his head and tried to keep his voice steady. «Not really. Not if it means losing you. I can’t do that again.»
She didn’t say anything but lowered her head. Noah went on, «Could you really leave me without looking back?»
She bit her lip as she answered. «I don’t know. Probably not.»