IT WAS EARLY October 1946, and Noah Calhoun watched the fading sun sink lower from the porch of his plantation style home. He liked to sit here in the evenings, especially after working hard all day, and let his thoughts wander. It was how he relaxed, a routine he’d learned from his father.
The house was built in 1772. It was one of the oldest, as well as largest, homes in New Bern. Originally, it was the main house on a working plantation, and he had bought it right after the war ended and had spent the last eleven months and a small fortune repairing it. The reporter from the Raleigh paper had done an article on it a few weeks ago and said it was one of the finest restorations he’d ever seen. At least the house was. The rest of the property was another story, and that was where Noah had spent most of the day.
He’d gone into the house, drunk a glass of sweet tea, then showered; the water was washing away dirt and fatigue. Afterwards he’d combed his hair back, put on some faded jeans and a long-sleeved blue shirt, poured himself another glass of tea and gone to the porch, where he sat every day at this time.
He reached for his guitar, remembering his father as he did so, thinking how much he missed him. He hummed at first, then began to sing as night came down around him.
It was a little after seven when he stopped and settled back into his rocking chair. By habit, he looked upwards and saw Orion, the Big Dipper and the Pole Star, twinkling in the autumn sky.
Clem, his dog, came up to him and lay down at his feet.
He was thirty-one now, not too old, but old enough to be lonely. He hadn’t dated since he’d been back here, hadn’t met anyone who remotely interested him. It was his own fault, he knew. There was something that kept a distance between him and any woman who started to get close, something he wasn’t sure he could change even if he tried. And sometimes, in the moments before sleep, he wondered if he was destined to be alone forever.
He smiled to himself. He was glad he’d come back. Though he’d been away for fourteen years, this was home and he knew a lot of people here, most of them from his youth. It wasn’t surprising. Like so many southern towns, the people who lived here never changed, they just grew a bit older.
His best friend these days was Gus, a seventy-year-old black man who lived down the road. They had met a couple of weeks after Noah bought the house, when Gus had shown up with some homemade liquor and stew, and the two had spent their first evening together getting drunk and telling stories.
Now Gus showed up a couple of nights a week, usually around eight. With four kids and eleven grandchildren in the house, he needed to get out now and then, and Noah couldn’t blame him. Usually Gus brought his harmonica and, after talking for a little while, they played a few songs together.
He’d come to regard Gus as family. There really wasn’t anyone else, at least not since his father died last year. He was an only child and his mother had died of influenza when he was two. And though he had wanted to at one time, he had never married.
But he had been in love once, that he knew. Once and only once, and a long time ago. And it had changed him forever. Perfect love did that to a person, and this had been perfect.
It was just after graduation 1932, the opening night of the Neuse River Festival. The town was enjoying barbecues and games of chance. He arrived alone, and as he strolled through the crowd, looking for friends, he saw Fin and Sarah, two people he’d grown up with, talking to a girl he’d never seen before. She was pretty. When he finally joined them, she looked his way with a pair of hazy eyes. «Hi,» she said simply as she offered her hand. «Finley’s told me a lot about you.»
An ordinary beginning. But as he shook her hand and met those striking emerald eyes, he knew before he’d taken his next breath that she was the only one he could spend the rest of his life with. She seemed that good, that perfect.
From there, it went like a tornado wind. Fin told him she was spending the summer in New Bern with her family, because her father worked for a tobacco firm. Sarah suggested getting some cherry cokes, and the four of them stayed at the festival until the crowds were thin and everything closed up for the night.
They met the following day, and the day after that, and they soon became inseparable. Every morning but Sunday, when he had to go to church, he finished his chores as quickly as possible, then went to the park, where she was waiting for him. Because she was a newcomer and hadn’t lived in a small town before, they spent their days doing things that were completely new to her. He taught her how to fish. They rode in canoes and watched summer thunderstorms, and it seemed as though they’d always known each other. But he learned things as well. At the town dance, it was she who taught him how to waltz and do the Charleston.
Later in the summer, he brought her to this house, and told her that one day he was going to own it and fix it up. They spent hours together talking about their dreams — his of seeing the world, hers of being an artist. On a humid night in August, they both lost their virginity. When she left three weeks later, she took a piece of him and the rest of summer with her. He watched her leave town on an early rainy morning then went home and packed a bag. He spent the next week alone on a small island.