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The Notebook

The Notebook

The Notebook/9

t from the sofa and sat on the rug in front of the fire. Crossing her legs, she adjusted the quilt until she was comfortable and watched the dancing flames. Noah came back, saw what she had done, and went to sit beside her. He put down two glasses and poured some bourbon into each of them. Outside, the sky grew darker.

Thunder again. Loud. The storm in full fury, winds whipping the rain in circles.

"It's quite a storm," Noah said as he watched the drops flow in vertical streams on the windows. He and Allie were close now, though not touching, and Noah watched her chest rise slightly with every breath, imagining the feel of her body once again before fighting it back.

"I like it," she said, taking a sip. "I've always liked thunderstorms. Even as a young girl."

"Why?" Saying anything, keeping his balance.

"I don't know. They just always seemed romantic to me."

She was quiet for a moment, and Noah watched the fire flicker in her emerald eyes. Then she said, "Do you remember sitting together and watching the storm a few nights before I left?"

"Of course."

"I used to think about it all the time after I went home. I always thought about how you looked that night. It was the way I always remembered you."

"Have I changed much?"

She took another sip of bourbon, feeling it warm her. She touched his hand as she answered.

"Not really. Not in the things that I remember. You're older, of course, with more life behind you, but you've still got the same gleam in your eye. You still read poetry and float on rivers. And you've still got a gentleness that not even the war could take away."

He thought about what she'd said and felt her hand lingering on his, her thumb tracing slow circles.

"Allie, you asked me earlier what I remembered most about the summer. What do you remember?"

It was a while before she answered. Her voice seemed to come from somewhere else.

"I remember making love. That's what I remember most. You were my first, and it was more wonderful than I ever thought it would be."

Noah took a drink of bourbon, remembering, bringing back the old feelings again, then suddenly shook his head. This was already hard enough. She went on.

"I remember being so afraid beforehand that I was trembling, but at the same time being so excited. I'm glad you were the first. I'm glad we were able to share that."

"Me too."

"Were you as afraid as I was?"

Noah nodded without speaking, and she smiled at his honesty.

"I thought so. You were always shy like that. Especially in the beginning. I remember you had asked if I had a boyfriend, and when I said I did, you barely talked to me anymore."

"I didn't want to get between the two of you." "You did, though, in the end, despite your professed innocence," she said, smiling. "And I'm glad you did."

"When did you finally tell him about us?"

"After I got home."

"Was it hard?"

"Not at all. I was in love with you."

She squeezed his hand, let go, and moved closer. She put her hand through his arm, cradling it, and rested her head on his shoulder. He could smell her, soft like the rain, warm. She spoke quietly:

"Do you remember walking home after the festival? I asked you if you wanted to see me again. You just nodded your head and didn't say a word. It wasn't too convincing."

"I'd never met anyone like you before. I couldn't help it. I didn't know what to say."

"I know. You could never hide anything. Your eyes always gave you away. You had the most wonderful eyes I'd ever seen."

She paused then, lifted her head from his shoulder, and looked directly at him. When she spoke, her voice was barely above a whisper. "I think I loved you more that summer than I ever loved anyone."

Lightning flashed again. In the quiet moments before the thunder, their eyes met as they tried to undo the fourteen years, both of them sensing a change since yesterday. When the thunder finally sounded, Noah sighed and turned from her, toward the windows.

"I wish you could have read the letters I wrote you," he said.

She didn't speak for a long while.

"It wasn't just up to you, Noah. I didn't tell you, but I wrote you a dozen letters after I got home. I just never sent them."

"Why?" Noah was surprised. "I guess I was too afraid." "Of what?"

"That maybe it wasn't as real as I thought it was. That maybe you forgot me."

"I would never do that. I couldn't even think it." "I know that now. I can see it when I look at you. But back then, it was different. There was so much I didn't understand, things that a young girl's mind couldn't sort out."

"What do you mean?"

She paused, collecting her thoughts.

"When your letters never came, I didn't know what to think. I remember talking to my best friend about what happened that summer, and she said that you got what you wanted, and that she wasn't surprised that you wouldn't write. I didn't believe that you were that way, I never did, but hearing it and thinking about all our differences made me wonder if maybe the summer meant more to me than it had meant to you. . . . And then, while all this was going through my head, I heard from Sarah. She said that you had left New Bern."

"Fin and Sarah always knew where I was--"

She held up her hand to stop him. "I know, but I never asked. I assumed that you had left New Bern to start a new life, one without me. Why else wouldn't you write? Or call? Or come see me?"

Noah looked away without answering, and she continued:

"I didn't know, and in time, the hurt began to fade and it was easier to just let it go. At least I thought it was. But in every boy I met in the next few years, I found myself looking for you, and when the feelings got too strong, I'd write you another letter. But I never sent them for fear of what I might find. By then, you'd gone on with your life and I didn't want to think about you loving someone else. I wanted to remember us like we were that summer. I didn't want to ever lose that."

She said it so sweetly, so innocently, that Noah wanted to kiss her when she finished. But he didn't. Instead he fought the urge and pushed it back, knowing it wasn't what she needed. Yet she felt so wonderful to him, touching him. . . .

"The last letter I wrote was a couple of years ago. After I met Lon, I wrote to your daddy to find out where you were. But it had been so long since I'd seen you, I wasn't even sure he'd still be there. And with the war . . ."

She trailed off, and they were quiet for a moment, both of them lost in thought. Lightning lit the sky again before Noah finally broke the silence.

"I wish you would have mailed it anyway." "Why?"

"Just to hear from you. To hear what you've been up to."

"You might have been disappointed. My life isn't too exciting. Besides, I'm not exactly what you remembered."

"You're better than I remembered, Allie." "You're sweet, Noah."

He almost stopped there, knowing that if he kept the words inside him, he could somehow keep control, the same control he had kept the past fourteen years. But something else had overtaken him now, and he gave in to it, hoping somehow, in some way, it would take them back to what they'd had so long ago.

"I'm not saying it because I'm sweet. I'm saying it because I love you now and I always have. More than you can imagine."

A log snapped, sending sparks up the chimney, and both of them noticed the smoldering remains, almost burned through. The fire needed another log, but neither of them moved.

Allie took another sip of bourbon and began to feel its effects. But it wasn't just the alcohol that made her hold Noah a little tighter and feel his warmth against her. Glancing out the window, she saw the clouds were almost black.

"Let me get the fire going again," Noah said, needing to think, and she released him. He went to the fireplace, opened the screen, and added a couple of logs. He used the poker to adjust the burning wood, making sure the new wood could catch easily.

The flame began to spread again, and Noah returned to her side. She snuggled up against him again, resting her head on his shoulder as she had before, not speaking, rubbing her hand lightly against his chest. Noah leaned closer and whispered in her ear.

"This reminds me of how we once were. When we were young."

She smiled, thinking the same thing, and they watched the fire and smoke, holding each other.

"Noah, you've never asked, but I want you to know something."

"What is it?"

Her voice was tender.

"There's never been another, Noah. You weren't just the first. You're the only man I've ever been with. I don't expect you to say the same thing, but I wanted you to know."

Noah was silent as he turned away. She felt warmer as she watched the fire. Her hand ran over the muscles beneath his shirt, hard and firm as they leaned against each other.

She remembered when they'd held each other like this for what they'd thought would be the last time. They were sitting on a sea wall designed to hold back the waters of the Neuse River. She was crying because they might never see each other again, and she wondered how she could ever be happy again. Instead of answering, he pressed a note into her hand, which she read on the way home. She had saved it, occasionally reading all of it or sometimes just a part. One part she'd read at least a hundred times, and for some reason it ran through her head now. It said:

The reason it hurts so much to separate is because our souls are connected. Maybe they always have been and will be. Maybe we've lived a thousand lives before this one and in

each of them we've found each other. And maybe each time, we've been forced apart for the same reasons. That means that this goodbye is both a goodbye for the past ten thousand years and a prelude to what will come.

When I look at you, I see your beauty and grace and know they have grown stronger with every life you have lived. And I know I have spent every life before this one searching for you. Not someone like you, but you, for your soul and mine must always come together. And then, for a reason neither of us understands, we've been forced to say goodbye.

I would love to tell you that everything will work out for us, and I promise to do all I can to make sure it does. But if we never meet again and this is truly goodbye, I know we will see each other again in another life. We will find each other again, and maybe the stars will have changed, and we will not only love each other in that time, but for all the times we've had before.

Could it be? she wondered. Could he be right? She had never completely discounted it, wanting to hold on to its promise in case it was true. The idea had helped her through many hard times. But sitting here now seemed to test the theory that they were destined to always be apart. Unless the stars had changed since they were last together.

And maybe they had, but she didn't want to look.

Instead she leaned into him and felt the heat between them, felt his body, felt his arm tight around her. And her body began to tremble with the same anticipation she had felt the first time they were together.

It felt so right to be here. Everything felt right. The fire, the drinks, the storm--it couldn't have been more perfect. Like magic, it seemed, their years apart didn't matter anymore.

Lightning cut the sky outside. Fire danced on white-hot wood, spreading the heat. October rain sheeted itself against the windows, drowning out all other sounds.

They gave in then to everything they had fought the last fourteen years. Allie lifted her head off his shoulder, looked at him with hazy eyes, and Noah kissed her softly on the lips. She brought her hand to his face and touched his cheek, brushing it softly with her fingers. He leaned in slowly and kissed her again, still soft and tender, and she kissed back, feeling the years of separation dissolve into passion.

She closed her eyes and parted her lips as he ran his fingers up and down her arms, slowly, lightly. He kissed her neck, her cheek, her eyelids, and she felt the moisture of his mouth linger wherever his lips had touched. She took his hand and led it to her breasts, and a whimper rose in her throat as he gently touched them through the thin fabric of the shirt.

The world seemed dreamlike as she pulled back from him, the firelight setting her face aglow. Without speaking, she started to undo the buttons on his shirt. He watched her as she did it and listened to her soft breaths as she made her way downward. With each button he could feel her fingers brushing against his skin, and she smiled softly at him when she finally finished. He felt her slide her hands inside, touching him as lightly as possible, letting her hands explore his body. He was hot and she ran her hand over his slightly wet chest, feeling his hair between her fingers. Leaning in, she kissed his neck gently as she pulled the shirt over his shoulders, locking his arms behind his back. She lifted her head and allowed him to kiss her as he rolled his shoulders, freeing himself from the sleeves.

With that, he slowly reached for her. He lifted her shirt and ran his finger slowly across her belly before raising her arms and slipping it off. She felt short of breath as he lowered his head and kissed between her breasts and slowly ran his tongue up to her neck. His hands gently caressed her back, her arms, her shoulders, and she felt their heated bodies press together, skin to skin. He kissed her neck and nibbled gently as she lifted her hips and allowed him to pull off her bottoms. She reached for the snap on his jeans, undid it, and watched as he slipped them off as well. It was almost slow motion as their naked bodies finally came together, both of them trembling with the memory of what they had once shared together.

He ran his tongue along her neck while his hands moved over the smooth hot skin of her breasts, down her belly, past her navel, and up again. He was struck by her beauty. Her shimmering hair trapped the light and made it sparkle. Her skin was soft and beautiful, almost glowing in the firelight. He felt her hands on his back, beckoning him.

They lay back, close to the fire, and the heat made the air seem thick. Her back was slightly arched as he rolled atop her in one fluid motion. He was on all fours above her, his knees astride her hips. She lifted her head and kissed his chin and neck, breathing hard, licking his shoulders, and tasting the sweat that lingered on his body. She ran her hands through his hair as he held himself above her, his arm muscles hard from the exertion. With a little tempting frown, she pulled him closer, but he resisted. Instead he lowered himself and lightly rubbed his chest against her, and she felt her body respond with anticipation. He did this slowly, over and over, kissing every part of her body, listening as she made soft, whimpering sounds while he moved above her.

He did this until she couldn't take it anymore, and when they finally joined as one, she cried aloud and pressed her fingers hard into his back. She buried her face in his neck and felt him deep inside her, felt his strength and gentleness, felt his muscle and his soul. She moved rhythmically against him, allowing him to take her wherever he wanted, to the place she was meant to be.

She opened her eyes and watched him in the firelight, marveling at his beauty as he moved above her. She saw his body glisten with crystal sweat and watched as beads rolled down his chest and fell onto her like the rain outside. And with every drop, with every breath, she felt herself, every responsibility, every facet of her life, slipping away.

Their bodies reflected everything given, everything taken, and she was rewarded with a sensation she never knew existed. It went on and on, tingling throughout her body and warming her before finally subsiding, and she struggled to catch her breath while she trembled beneath him. But the moment it was over, another one started to build again, and she started to feel them in long sequences, one right after the next. By the time the rain had stopped and the sun had set, her body was exhausted but unwilling to stop the pleasure between them.

They spent the day in each other's arms, alternately making love by the fire and then holding each other as they watched the flames curl around the wood. Sometimes he recited one of his favorite poems as she lay beside him, and she would listen with her eyes closed and almost feel the words. Then, when they were ready, they would join again and he murmured words of love between kisses as they wrapped their arms around one another.

They went on throughout the evening, making up for their years apart, and slept in each other's arms that night. Occasionally he would wake up and look at her, her body spent and radiant, and feel as if everything were suddenly right in this world.

Once, when he was looking at her in the moments before daybreak, her eyes fluttered open and she smiled and reached up to touch his face. He put his fingers to her lips, gently, to keep her from speaking, and for a long time they just looked at one another.

When the lump in his throat subsided, he whispered to her, "You are the answer to every prayer I've offered. You are a song, a dream, a whisper, and I don't know how I could have lived without you for as long as I have. I love you, Allie, more than you can ever imagine. I always have, and I always will."

"Oh, Noah," she said, pulling him to her. She wanted him, needed him now more than ever, like nothing she'd ever known.





Courtrooms


Later that morning, three men--two lawyers and the judge--sat in chambers while Lon finished speaking. It was a moment before the judge answered.

"It's an unusual request," he said, pondering the situation. "It seems to me the trial could very well end today. Are you saying this urgent matter can't wait until later this evening or tomorrow?"

"No, Your Honor, it can't," Lon answered almost too quickly. Stay relaxed, he told himself. Take a deep breath.

"And it has nothing to do with this case?"

"No, Your Honor. It's of a personal nature. I know it's out of the ordinary, but I really need to take care of it." Good, better.

The judge leaned back in his chair, evaluating him for a moment. "Mr. Bates, how do you feel about this?"

He cleared his throat. "Mr. Hammond called me this morning and I've already spoken to my clients. They're willing to postpone until Monday."

"I see," the judge said. "And do you believe it is in your clients' best interests to do this?"

"I believe so," he said. "Mr. Hammond has agreed to reopen discussion on a certain matter not covered by this proceeding."

The judge looked hard at both of them and thought about it.

"I don't like it," he finally said, "not at all. But Mr.