Home > Every Breath(11)

Every Breath(11)
Author: Nicholas Sparks

He longed to draw his mother, but her features seemed to vanish more quickly than his skill developed. Everything he attempted struck him as wrong somehow, not the mother he remembered, even when Tengwe and Anoona protested otherwise. Some attempts were closer than others, but never once did he complete a drawing of his mother that he felt fully captured her. In the end, he threw the stack of sketches away, resigning himself to that additional loss, like the other losses in his life.

Like his father.

Growing up, it had sometimes felt to Tru as though the man had never existed. His mother had said little about him, even when Tru pressed; the Colonel refused to speak of him at all. Over time, Tru’s curiosity waned to almost nothing. He could go years without thinking or wondering about the man. Then, out of the blue, a letter had arrived a few months ago at the camp in Hwange. It had originally been sent to the farm; Tengwe had forwarded it, but Tru hadn’t bothered opening it right away. When he finally did, his initial instinct was to regard it as some sort of practical joke, despite the plane tickets. It was only when he scrutinized the faded photograph that he realized that the letter might be genuine.

The photo showed a young, handsome man with his arm around a much younger version of a woman who could only be Tru’s mother. Evelyn was a teenager in the photograph—she had been nineteen when Tru was born—and it struck Tru as surreal that he was more than twice the age she’d been back then. Assuming, of course, that it actually was her.

But it was. In his heart, he knew it.

He didn’t know how long he stared at it on that first evening, but over the next few days, he found himself continually reaching for it. It was the only photograph he had of his mother. All the others had been lost in the same fire that had killed her, and seeing her image after so many years triggered a flood of additional memories: the sight of her sketching on the back veranda; her face hovering above him as she tucked him into bed; the sight of her wearing a green dress as she stood in the kitchen; the feel of her hand in his as they walked toward a pond. He still wasn’t sure whether any of those events were real or simply figments of his imagination.

Then, of course, there was the man in the photograph…

In the letter, he’d identified himself as Harry Beckham, an American. He claimed to have been born in 1914, and to have met Tru’s mother in late 1946. He’d served in World War II as part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and after the war, he’d moved to Rhodesia, where he worked at the Bushtick Mine in Matabeleland. He’d met Tru’s mother in Harare, and said that the two of them had fallen in love. He further claimed not to have known that she’d been pregnant when he moved back to America, but Tru wasn’t sure he believed that. After all, if he hadn’t even suspected that Tru’s mum had been pregnant, why would he have searched for a long-lost child in the first place?

Tru supposed he would find out soon enough.

Tru continued to labor over the sketch for a couple of hours, stopping only when he thought he had something that Andrew might enjoy. He hoped it might make up for the week they wouldn’t be together.

Heading inside, he toyed with the idea of going fishing. He enjoyed it and hadn’t had much time for it in the past few years, but after sitting for much of the afternoon, he felt the urge to get his blood flowing. Maybe tomorrow, he thought, and instead changed into the only pair of shorts he owned. He found a closet full of beach towels, grabbed one, then went to the beach. Dropping the towel in the dry sand near the water’s edge, he waded in, surprised by how warm the water was. He moved through the first set of mild breakers, then the next, and once he was beyond them, he was chest-deep in the water. Kicking off the bottom, he began to swim, hoping to make it to the pier and back.

It took a while to find his rhythm, despite the placid surface of the ocean. Because he hadn’t swum any kind of distance in years, he found it slow going. He inched past one house and then another; by the fifth house, his muscles had begun to tire. When he reached the pier, exhaustion had set in, but he was nothing if not persistent. Instead of wading ashore, he turned and began the even slower swim back to where he’d started.

When he finally reached his house and went ashore, the muscles in his legs were shaking and he could barely move his arms. Nonetheless, he felt satisfied. At the camp, he was limited to calisthenics and the kind of explosive jumps that could be done in confined areas. He ran whenever possible—he would circle the interior perimeter of the guide camp for half an hour a few times a week, the most boring jog on the planet, he’d long ago decided—but on most days, he was able to do quite a bit of walking. In the camp where he worked, a guide could allow guests to leave the jeep and head into the bush, as long as the guide was armed. Sometimes that was the only way to get close enough to spot some of the rarer animals like black rhinos or cheetahs. For him, it was a way to stretch his legs; for the guests, it was usually the highlight of any game drive.

Once inside, he took a long shower, rinsed his shorts in the sink, and had a sandwich for lunch. After that, he wasn’t quite sure what to do. It had been a long time since he’d had an afternoon with nothing whatsoever on the schedule, and it left him feeling unsettled. He picked up his sketchbook again and examined the drawing he’d done for Andrew, noticing some changes he wanted to make. It was always that way; Da Vinci once said that art is never finished but only abandoned, and that made perfect sense to Tru. He decided he’d work on it again tomorrow.

For now, he picked up his guitar and went to the back deck. The sand blazed white in the sun and the blue water stretching to the horizon was strangely calm beyond the breakers. Perfect. But as he tuned his guitar, he realized he had no desire to spend the rest of the day at the house. He could call for a car, but that seemed pointless. He had no idea where he would even want to go. Instead, he remembered that Hope had mentioned a restaurant a little way past the pier, and he decided that later tonight, he’d have dinner there.

Once the guitar was readied, he played for a while, running through most of the songs he’d ever learned. Like sketching, it allowed his mind to wander, and when his gaze eventually drifted to the cottage next door, his thoughts again landed on Hope. He wondered why, despite having a boyfriend and the wedding of a close friend only days away, she had come to Sunset Beach alone.

Hope found herself wishing that her hair and nail appointments had been scheduled for today instead of tomorrow morning, just so she’d have an excuse to get out of the house. Instead, she spent the morning going through a few of the closets at the cottage. Her mom had suggested that she take anything she wanted, with the unspoken caveat that Hope should try to anticipate her sisters’ desires as well. Both Robin and Joanna would be coming down to the cottage in the next few weeks to help with the sorting, and all of them had been raised in a way that left little room for selfishness. Because Hope had only limited storage space at her condominium, she had no problem with keeping almost nothing for herself.

Still, going through a single box took more time than she’d anticipated. After disposing of the junk (which was most of it), she’d been left with a favorite pair of swim goggles, a tattered copy of Where the Wild Things Are, a Bugs Bunny key chain, a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal, three completed coloring books, postcards from various places where the family had vacationed, and a locket with a photograph of Hope’s mother. All those items made her smile for one reason or another and were worth keeping, and she suspected that her sisters would feel the same way. Most likely, anything kept would end up in another box tucked away in an attic somewhere. Which raised the question of why they were bothering to go through it all in the first place, but deep down, Hope already knew the answer. Throwing it all away didn’t feel right. For some crazy reason, part of her wanted to know these things were still around.

She’d be the first to admit that she hadn’t been thinking all that straight lately, starting with the idea of coming here ahead of the wedding. In hindsight, it seemed like a bad idea, but she’d already requested and received the vacation days, and what was the alternative? Visiting her parents and trying not to worry about her dad? Or staying in Raleigh, where she’d be equally alone, but surrounded by constant reminders of Josh? She supposed she could have taken a vacation somewhere else, but where would she have gone? The Bahamas? Key West? Paris? She would have been alone there, too, her dad would still be sick, Josh would still be in Las Vegas, and she would still have a wedding to attend this weekend.

Ah, yes…the wedding. Though she hated to admit it, there was a part of her that didn’t want to go, and not only because she didn’t relish explaining that Josh had ditched her. And it wasn’t because of Ellen, either. She was genuinely happy for Ellen, and normally, she couldn’t wait to see her closest friends. They knew everything about each other, and had stayed in touch regularly after graduation. They’d also all been bridesmaids in each other’s weddings, starting with Jeannie and Linda. They’d both married a year after graduation and now had five kids between them. Sienna got married a couple years after that and now had four kids. Angie tied the knot when she was thirty, and had twin three-year-old girls. Susan had been married two years ago, and now—as of next Saturday, Ellen, too, would join the ranks of the married.

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