Home > Every Breath(5)

Every Breath(5)
Author: Nicholas Sparks

His hair was still damp as he stepped onto the back deck. The air remained warm, but the sun was sinking lower and the sky had fanned into a thousand shades of yellow and orange. Squinting into the distance, he could just make out what looked to be a pod of porpoises playing in the waves beyond the breakers. A latched gate gave way to steps that descended to a planked walkway over the grasses; following the steps, he trekked out to the final dune, discovering more steps leading to the beach.

There were few people about. In the distance, he saw a woman trailing behind a small dog; in the opposite direction, a few surfers floated on their boards near a pier that stretched into the ocean like a pointed finger. He started toward the pier, walking on the compact sand near the water’s edge, musing that until recently, he’d never heard of Sunset Beach. He wasn’t sure he’d ever thought about North Carolina at all. He tried to recall whether any of his guests over the years had come from here, without luck. He supposed it didn’t make any difference.

At the pier, he took the stairs up and strolled to the end. Resting his arms on the railings, he gazed over water that stretched to the horizon. The sight of it, the immensity of it, was almost beyond comprehension. It reminded him that there was an entire world out there to explore, and he wondered if he would ever get around to doing it. Maybe when Andrew was older, they’d spend some time traveling together…

As the breeze picked up, the moon began its slow ascent into an indigo sky. He took it as a cue to head back. He assumed his father owned the place. It might have been a rental, but the furnishings were too pricey to trust to strangers, and besides, if that was the case, why not simply put Tru up at a hotel? He wondered again about the delay until Saturday. Why had he flown Tru out so far in advance? If the man was indeed dying, Tru speculated that it could be something medical, which meant there was no guarantee about Saturday, either.

But what would happen when his father did show up? The man was a stranger; a single meeting wasn’t going to change that. Nonetheless, Tru hoped he’d be able to answer some questions, which was the only reason Tru had decided to come in the first place.

Entering the house, he fished out a steak from the refrigerator. He had to open a few of the cabinets before he found a cast-iron fry pan, but the stove, as fancy as it was, functioned similarly to the ones back home. There were also various food items from a place called Murray’s Deli, and he added what appeared to be some kind of cabbage salad as well as potato salad to his plate. After he ate, he washed the plate, glass, and utensils by hand and grabbed his guitar before returning to the back deck. He played and sang softly to himself for an hour while the occasional shooting star passed overhead. He thought about Andrew and Kim, his mother and grandfather, before finally becoming sleepy enough to go to bed.

In the morning, he did a hundred push-ups and a hundred sit-ups before trying and failing to make some coffee. He couldn’t figure out how the machine worked. Too many buttons, too many options, and he had no idea where to add the water. He decided to visit the beach instead, hoping to stumble upon a place to buy a cup.

Like the evening before, he had the beach mostly to himself. He thought about how pleasant it was to spontaneously take a walk. He couldn’t do that at Hwange, not without a rifle, anyway. He breathed deeply when he reached the sand, tasting salt in the air, feeling like the foreigner he was.

He slipped his hands into his pockets, taking in the morning. He had been walking for fifteen minutes when he spotted a cat crouched on top of a dune, next to a deck that was under repair, the steps to the beach still unfinished. At the farm, there had been barn cats, but this one looked as though it spent most of its time indoors. Just then, a small white dog raced past him, barreling toward a flock of seagulls that burst into the air like a small explosion. The dog eventually veered toward the dune, spotted the cat, and took off like a rocket. The cat jumped up to the deck as the dog scrambled up the dune in pursuit, both of them vanishing from sight. A minute later, he thought he heard the distant screech of car tires, followed by the sound of a dog yelping and crying.

He glanced behind him; halfway down the beach, he saw a woman standing near the water, no doubt the dog’s owner, her gaze fixed on the ocean. He guessed she was the same woman he’d spotted the night before, but she was too far away to have seen or heard what had happened.

Hesitating briefly, Tru started after the dog, his feet slipping in the sand as he scaled the dune. Stepping onto the deck, he followed the walkway, eventually reaching a new set of steps leading on one side up to the house’s deck and on the other, down to the ground. He went down, winding between two houses that were similar in style to the one where he was staying. Climbing over a low retaining wall, he continued to the road. No car in sight. No hysterical people or dog lying in the road, either. That was good news, as an initial matter. He knew from experience that wounded animals often sought shelter if they were still able to move, nature’s way of allowing them to heal while hiding from predators.

He walked along one side of the road, searching the bushes and around trees. He didn’t see anything. Crossing the street, he repeated the process and eventually came across the dog standing near a hedge, its rear leg bobbing up and down. The dog was panting and shaking, whether from pain or shock, Tru couldn’t tell. He debated whether to go back to the beach and try to find the woman, but he was afraid the dog might hobble away to parts unknown. Removing his sunglasses, he squatted down and held his hand out.

“Hey there,” he said, keeping his voice calm and steady, “You all right?”

The dog tilted its head and Tru slowly began to inch toward it, speaking in low, steady tones. When Tru was close, the dog stretched out, trying to sniff his hand, before taking a couple of hesitant steps forward. When the dog finally seemed convinced of his good intentions, it relaxed. Tru stroked its head and checked for blood. Nothing. On its collar tag, Tru saw the name Scottie.

“Hi, Scottie,” he said. “Let’s get you back to the beach, shall we? Come on.”

It took some coaxing, but Scottie finally began to follow Tru back toward the dune. He was limping, but not to the point where Tru thought anything might be broken. When Scottie stopped at the retaining wall, Tru hesitated before finally reaching down and scooping him into his arms. He carried him between the houses and up the steps to the walkway, then eventually over the dune. Scanning the beach, he spotted the woman, much nearer now.

Tru eased down the dune and started toward her. The morning remained bright, but the woman seemed even brighter, amplified by the sunny yellow fabric of her sleeveless top fluttering in the wind. He watched as the gap between them continued to close, studying her as she drew near. Despite the confusion on her face, she was beautiful, with untamed auburn hair and eyes the color of turquoise. And almost at once, something inside him began to stir, something that made him feel a bit nervous, the way he always felt in the presence of an attractive woman.


Hope stepped from the back deck to the walkway that led over the dune, trying to keep her coffee from spilling. Scottie—her aptly named Scottish terrier—strained at the leash, eager to reach the beach.

“Stop pulling,” she said.

The dog ignored her. Scottie had been a gift from Josh, her boyfriend of the past six years, and he barely listened on his best days. But since arriving at the cottage the day before, he’d been positively wild. His paws scuffled madly against the sandy steps as they descended to the beach, and she reminded herself that she needed to bring him to another one of those weekend obedience training programs, though she doubted it would do any good. He’d flunked out of the first two already. Scottie—the sweetest and cutest dog in the world—seemed to be a bit of a dim bulb, bless his heart. Then again, maybe he was just stubborn.

Because Labor Day had come and gone, the beach was quiet, most of the elegant homes dark. She saw someone jogging near the pier; in the opposite direction, a couple strolled near the water. She leaned over, setting the foam cup in the sand while she released Scottie from the leash, watching as her dog sprinted away. She doubted anyone would care. Last night, she’d seen two other dogs off leash, and in any case there weren’t too many people around to complain.

Hope started walking and took a sip of her coffee. She hadn’t slept well. Usually, the endless roar of the waves lulled her immediately to sleep, but not last night. She’d tossed and turned, woken multiple times, and had finally given up for good when sunlight began streaming into her room.

At least the weather was perfect, with blue skies and a temperature more typical of early autumn than late summer. On the news last night, they had predicted storms over the weekend, and her friend Ellen was crazy with worry. Ellen was getting married on Saturday, and both the wedding and the reception were supposed to be outdoors at the Wilmington Country Club, somewhere near the eighteenth green. Hope figured there was probably a backup plan—no doubt, they’d be able to use the clubhouse—but when Ellen had called last night, she’d nearly been in tears.

Hope had been sympathetic on the phone, but it hadn’t been easy. Ellen was so caught up in her own worries that she hadn’t so much as asked how Hope was doing. In a way, that was probably a good thing; the last thing Hope wanted to talk about right now was Josh. How was she supposed to explain that Josh was going to be a no-show for the wedding? Or that—as disappointing as a rained-out wedding could be—there were definitely worse things?

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