«Why wouldn’t you think so?» She seemed genuinely surprised.
«You never answered my letters.»
«Dozens of letters. I wrote to you for two years without receiving a single reply.»
She slowly shook her head before lowering her eyes. «I didn’t know,» she said finally, quietly, and then he thought that her mother had been checking the mail, removing the letters without her knowledge. It was what he had always suspected, and he watched as Allie came to the same realization.
«It was wrong of her to do that, Noah, and I’m sorry she did. But try to understand. Once I left, she probably thought it would be easier for me to just let it go. She never understood how much you meant to me, and, to be honest, I don’t even know if she ever loved my father the way I loved you. In her mind, she was just trying to protect my feelings, and she probably thought the best way to do that was to hide the letters you sent.»
«That wasn’t her decision to make,» he said quietly.
«Would it have made a difference even if you’d got them?» It took a moment for her to answer. «I don’t know, Noah. I really don’t, and you don’t either. We’re not the same people we were then. We’ve changed. Both of us.»
She paused and went on. «But yes, Noah, I think… at least, I’d like to think that it would have made a difference.» He nodded, looked down, and then turned away. «What’s Lon like?»
She hesitated, not expecting the question.
«Lon’s handsome, charming and successful. He’s kind to me, he makes me laugh, and I know he loves me in his own way.» She collected her thoughts. «But there’s always going to be something missing in our relationship.»
She surprised herself with her answer but knew it was true nonetheless. And she also knew by looking at him that Noah had suspected the answer in advance when he asked, «Why?» She shrugged and her voice was barely above a whisper. «I guess I still look for the kind of love we had that summer.» Noah thought about what she had said, thought about the relationships he’d had since he’d last seen her.
«How about you’?» she asked. «Did you ever think about us?»
«All the time. I still do.»
«Are you seeing anyone?»
«No,» he answered, shaking his head. «I’m going to go and start the water. Can I get you anything’?»
She shook her head, and Noah went to the kitchen. He was thinking about Allie and the love that was missing from both their lives.
Allie, too, was thinking. About Noah, about herself, about many things. For a moment, she wished that she weren’t engaged, but then quickly cursed herself. It wasn’t Noah she loved; she loved what they once had been. Besides, it was normal to feel this way. Her first real love, the only man she’d ever been with — how could she expect to forget him?
Yet was it normal for her insides to tremble whenever he came near? Was it normal to confess things she could never tell anyone else? Was it normal to come here three weeks before her wedding day?
«No, it’s not,» she finally whispered to herself as she looked at the evening sky, «there’s nothing normal about any of this.»
Noah came out at that moment and she smiled at him, glad he’d come back so she didn’t have to think about it anymore.
«It’s going to take a few minutes,» he said as he sat down.
«That’s fine. I’m not that hungry yet.»
He looked at her then, and she saw the softness in his eyes. «I’m glad you came, Allie,» he said.
«Me too. I almost didn’t, though.»
«Why did you come?»
«I was compelled,» she wanted to say, but didn’t.
«Just to see you, to find out what you are doing. To see how you are.»
He wondered if that was all, but didn’t question further. Instead, he changed the subject. «By the way, do you still paint?»
She shook her head. «Not anymore.»
He was stunned. «Why not? You have so much talent.»
«It’s a long story.»
«I’ve got all night,» he answered.
«Did you really think I was talented?» she asked quietly.
«Come on,» he said, reaching out for her hand. «I want to show you something.»
She got up and followed him through the door to the living room. He stopped in front of the fireplace and pointed to the painting that hung above the mantelpiece. She gasped, surprised she hadn’t noticed it earlier, more surprised it was here at all.
«You kept it’?»
«Of course I kept it. It’s wonderful.»
She gave him a skeptical look, and he explained. «It makes me feel alive when I look at it. Sometimes I have to get up and touch it. It’s incredible, Allie. You mean to tell me no one has ever told you that before?»
«My professor did,» she said, «but I guess I didn’t believe him.» He knew there was more. Allie looked away before continuing. «I’ve been drawing and painting since I was a child. I guess that once I got a little older I began to think I was good at it. I enjoyed it too. I remember working on this painting that summer, adding to it every day, changing it as our relationship changed. I don’t even remember how it started or what I wanted it to be, but somehow it developed into this.