«Did you do it all yourself?»
He laughed. «No. I always thought I would when I was young, and I started that way. But it was just too much, so I had to hire some people… actually a lot of people. But even with them it was still a lot of work, and most of the time I didn’t stop until past midnight.»
«Why did you work so hard?»
Ghosts, he wanted to say, but didn’t.
«I don’t know. Just wanted to finish, I guess. Do you want anything to drink before I start dinner?»
«What do you have?»
«Not much, really. Beer, tea, coffee.»
«Tea sounds good.»
He gathered the grocery bags and put them away, then walked to a small room off the kitchen before returning with a box of tea. He pulled out a couple of tea bags and put them by the stove, then filled the kettle. After putting it on the burner, he lit a match and she heard the sound of flames as they came to life.
«It’ll be just a minute,» he said, «this stove heats up pretty quick.»
When the kettle whistled, he poured two cups and handed one to her. She smiled and took a sip.
«I’m going to get the crabs in to marinate for a few minutes before I steam them,» he said, putting his cup on the counter. He went to the cupboard and removed a large pot with a steamer and lid. He brought the pot to the sink, added water, and then carried it to the stove.
«Can I help you?»
He answered over his shoulder, «Sure. How about cutting up some vegetables to fry. There’s plenty in the icebox, and you can find a bowl over there.»
He stared at Allie, watching her cut the carrots. As he did that, he wondered again, why she had come, especially now that she was engaged. None of this made much sense to him. But then Allie had always been surprising.
He smiled, remembering the way she had been. Fiery, spontaneous, passionate — as he imagined most artists to be. And she was definitely that. Artistic talent like hers was a gift. He remembered seeing some paintings in the museums in New York and thinking that her work was just as good.
She had given him a painting before she’d left that summer. It hung above the fireplace in the living room. She’d called it a picture of her dreams, and to him it had seemed extremely sensual. When he looked at it, he could see desire in the colours and the lines, and if he focused carefully, he could imagine what she had been thinking with every stroke.
A dog barked in the distance, and Noah realized he had been standing with the door open a long time. He closed it quickly and went into the kitchen.
«How’s it going?» he asked, seeing she was nearly finished.
«Good. I’m almost done here. Anything else for dinner?»
«I have some homemade bread. From a neighbour,» he added. He began to wash the crabs, holding them under the tap. Allie picked up her cup and came over to watch him.
«You want to sit on the porch for a few minutes? I’d like to let them marinate for a half-hour.»
«Sure,» she said.
He wiped his hands, and together they went to the back porch. Noah turned on the light as they went outside, and he sat in the older rocker, offering the newer one to her.
«You were sitting out here when I came, weren’t you?» she asked.
«Yeah. I sit out here every night. It’s a habit now.»
«I can see why,» she said as she looked around. «So, what is it you do these days?»
«Actually, I don’t do anything but work on the house right now. It satisfies my creative urges.»
«How can you… I mean…»
«Morris Goldman. My old boss from up north. He offered me a part of the business just as I joined the army, and died before I got home. When I got back to the States, his lawyers gave me a cheque big enough to buy this place and fix it up.»
She laughed under her breath. «You always told me you’d find a way to do it.»
They both sat quietly for a moment, thinking back again. Allie took another sip of tea.
«Do you remember sneaking over here the night you first told me about this place?»
He nodded, and she went on: «I got home a little late that evening, and my parents were furious when I finally came in. I can still picture my daddy standing in the living room smoking a cigarette, my mother on the sofa staring straight ahead. I swear, they looked as if a family member had died. That was the first time my parents knew I was serious about you, and my mother had a long talk with me later that night. She said to me, ‘I’m sure you think that I don’t understand what you’re going through, but I do. It’s just that sometimes our future is dictated by what we are, as opposed to what we want.’ I remember I was really hurt when she said that.»
«You told me about it the next day. It hurt my feelings, too. I liked your parents and I had no idea they didn’t like me.»
«It wasn’t that they didn’t like you. They didn’t think you deserved me.»
«There’s not much difference.»
«I feel that it’s wrong, that it isn’t fair. It was a terrible thing for a girl to learn, that status is more important than feelings.»
Noah said nothing.
«I’ve thought about you ever since that summer,» she said.