The Windmill

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Overview

From the author of Jimmy's Girl—a writer who “hits the emotional bull's-eyedead center” (Baton Rouge Advocate)—comes a new novel that will remind us all that sometimes you don't know how much you have until it's gone.

Known for her gift for reaching straight to the heart, Stephanie Gertler now tells the story of a couple whose seemingly perfect life is toppled in an instant and saved through their bold leap of faith.

Olivia and Carl appear to ...

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Overview

From the author of Jimmy's Girl—a writer who “hits the emotional bull's-eyedead center” (Baton Rouge Advocate)—comes a new novel that will remind us all that sometimes you don't know how much you have until it's gone.

Known for her gift for reaching straight to the heart, Stephanie Gertler now tells the story of a couple whose seemingly perfect life is toppled in an instant and saved through their bold leap of faith.

Olivia and Carl appear to have the perfect life: a son and a daughter, weekends on Cape Cod, and satisfying work as professors at Belvedere College in the picturesque town of Willow, Massachusetts. Until, one day, the seemingly stable, dependable Carl disappears without a trace— leaving behind only a cryptic note. Alone and terrified, Olivia cannot help but relive the long-buried pain she felt when she lost her first husband. While Carl travels back to his childhood hometown to confront the demons he has always hidden from his wife, Olivia takes a journey of her own as she tries to make peace with the memories that have always haunted her. Told with graceful skill and unflinching honesty, The Windmill is a story of the secrets we are entitled to keep in a marriage and those we must share—marking a splendid new level of achievement in this much- admired author.

Author Biography: Stephanie Gertler is the author of three novels: Jimmy's Girl, The Puzzle Bark Tree, and, most recently, Drifting, all published by Dutton. She also writes a lifestyle column for two Connecticut newspapers, The Advocate and Greenwich Time.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Past misfortunes threaten to swamp a marriage in this weepy novel by Gertler (The Puzzle Bark Tree, etc.). When 58-year-old physics professor Carl Larkin disappears, leaving only a brief note ("I will explain. I promise. I'll call by Monday"), his 50-year-old wife, Olivia, a drama professor, plunges into the past, brooding over the death of her first husband, Noah, who was shot and killed in a holdup. Unable to bear her memories alone, she leaves the Massachusetts college town where she lives to stay with her parents on Cape Cod. Things aren't exactly cheery there, either, with her mother, Margaret, heroically caring for her Alzheimer's-afflicted father. But Margaret prods Olivia out of her gloomy introspection, forcing her to acknowledge that she's never let go of her feelings for Noah. Meanwhile, the missing Carl travels back to his North Carolina hometown, confronting the tragic past that made him flee his family at the age of 17. Gertler's evocation of Olivia's first, lost love is warm and poignant, but Carl's story is less convincing, and the couple's ultimate reunion comes out of nowhere. Though it's a pleasant enough read, this sentimental tale is hollow at the center. Agent, Marcy Posner Literary Agency. (Nov.) Forecast: Gertler's novels haven't reaped many positive reviews since her well-received debut Jimmy's Girl, but readers keep buying her feel-good family fiction, and they'll likely follow suit here. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585475445
  • Publisher: Center Point
  • Publication date: 3/28/2005
  • Edition description: Large Print Edition
  • Pages: 270
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Olivia


I am still not exactly certain what compelled me to go to Carl’s office that Friday morning last November. Looking back, I believe it was instinct or intuition. He was troubled at breakfast that morning, more deeply immersed in thought than usual—even for Carl. We sat with our mugs of coffee, read the newspaper, planned the weekend when we would rake the leaves and sweep away the last of autumn’s debris from the gutters.

He pushed back his chair, carried his mug to the sink, and, when typically he would grab his overcoat from the rack by the door and call “See you later” as he walked out, he came over and kissed my cheek. “See you,” he said, lingering for a moment.

“See you,” I said in a puzzled echo.

It wasn’t until later, once I knew he was gone, that the inherent finality in his voice resonated within me. Carl was saying good-bye.

I arrived early to teach my eleven o’clock class as I often do. Since Daniel and Sophie are away at school, morning chores are far less demanding. Usually, I go to the deli across the street from campus and have a second cup of coffee. I call my sister Nina or my parents from the cell phone but, instead, I went to Carl’s office in the science building on the other side of campus. It is an older building, darkened stone and ivy-covered. The door is frosted glass in a dark wood frame; DEPARTMENT OF PHYSICS stenciled in muddy brown. As I tried the knob, Ginny, Carl’s secretary, pulled open the door.

“He’s not here. Where is he?” she asked, almost as though I’d stolen him.

She startled me. “What are you talking about?”

“I didn’t mean to alarm you, Ms. Hughes. But he’s not here. Dr. Larkin. He’s not here,” she said breathlessly.

“I don’t understand,” I said, truly not getting the impact of what she said even though she kept repeating herself.

“Dr. Larkin didn’t show up for work this morning,” she said, enunciating each syllable as though we didn’t speak the same language. “I thought maybe you’d know why.”

I have mastered the art of transporting myself to another place in time when I feel cornered. Nina says it is the essence of protective animal instinct. And so I thought of garbage soup. I stood with my lips parted slightly and stared at Ginny, my mind back in the kitchen with my mother when Nina and I were girls. She was making a stew and Nina and I were dumping all the scrapings—potato peel, brown celery tips, the fat she’d trimmed off meat, chips of bone and gristle—into a giant pot of water. It was something you’d never want to look at, let alone taste. I suppose that Carl’s absence was just like that crazy concoction.

Thoughts raced through my mind the way they do in a dream. Rapid, all jumbled together, and barely discernible. Part of me wondered if I had willed this to happen. Certainly there had been times when I wished Carl would just go away. No harm, no drama, no major scenes. I can’t imagine there isn’t a wife on Earth who hasn’t felt that way at one time or another. Or a husband, for that matter. But Carl was far too practical to simply disappear, let alone deviate from his routine. That he was not where he was supposed to be was unsettling. It was the antithesis of Carl. My grandmother always said, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Poor Ginny. She’d been there for nearly a year and had the patience of a saint, unlike the string of temps who preceded her. There she was, her stringy brown hair tied back with a limp chiffon kerchief, her navy skirt dotted with lint, her eyes wide and clearly panic-stricken beneath thick-lensed glasses. She was probably in her mid-forties although she could have just as easily been sixty.

“Ms. Hughes? I’m looking to see if I missed something,” Ginny said, scanning Carl’s appointment book, running her index finger up and down the columns, flipping pages back and forth, as though she might find the Perfectly Reasonable Explanation as to why he wasn’t there. She kept muttering, “I can’t understand where he is,” over and over again, the way we do when we misplace something.

“Now, let’s just think for a moment,” I said. “You’ve checked his book.” As the words left my mouth, I realized how ridiculous they were. I was trying to calm her down—and myself—in the hope that this was all some sort of misunderstanding or miscommunication.

She looked at me blankly, down at the book in front of her, then back at me. “I am checking,” she said.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking,” I said. “What time did you get here this morning? I mean, maybe he got here before you did and then left. He left the house at seven-thirty.”

“I got here around seven-thirty,” she said softly. “The bus was on time this morning.”

“Well, maybe he had a dentist appointment or something.”

We both knew I was grasping at straws.

“Actually, he went to the dentist last week,” she said meekly.

“Right. I forgot,” I mumbled, though truly I hadn’t known.

“Well, there has to be some explanation,” I said. “Something must have come up that he forgot to mention.”

Ginny’s mouth was so parched that there were sticky little white patches in the corners. “I suppose,” she said. “It’s just so unlike him.”

Ginny inadvertently validated my fears. We both knew that Carl made no appointments by himself. His scheduling was precise and executed with constant reminders from whomever was assisting him that week or that month: Post-Its stuck on his computer and on top of his mail and then, finally, someone practically ushering him out the door with more last-minute reminders telling him for the umpteenth time the name of the person he was meeting, the location—even the topic. Carl’s poor secretaries did everything but slick down his hair, stick an identification tag on his lapel, and hang his car key around his neck. They booted up his computer, returned his phone messages, retrieved his voice mail, his e-mail, and generally ran interference among his colleagues, who found Carl to be brilliant but distracted to the point of vacancy. Those who didn’t know Carl well might have thought him to be condescending or aloof. It wasn’t that at all. Carl was just profoundly introspective, private, and abysmally disorganized—the reasons why the temps usually threw their hands up in the air after a month or so and quit.

I played a game in my head sometimes: How would I answer if someone asked me to describe my husband? “Carl Larkin, fifty-eight years old. Chairman of the Department of Physics at Belvedere College in Willow, Massachusetts.” Handsome and rugged in a rumpled, absentminded professor sort of way. He lived and breathed physics, waxing on and on about his fascination with the “duality of pairs.” He was a self- admitted loner, although I believed that, deep down inside, he cherished his children and even me. He presented himself as though he had an aversion to intimacy although I often wondered whether it was avoidance or fear. He seemed to eschew metaphor, symbolism, or emotion and yet I often felt that was a disguise as well. Whenever I attempted to scratch beneath Carl’s surface, a nearly visible armor covered him. At that very moment, I chastised myself for not being more relentless with Carl, for retreating so easily instead of forcibly penetrating him. But, then again, had I reached into his soul, I would have had to allow him to reach into mine.

The week before Carl disappeared, I turned fifty. People say “It’s just a number,” but fifty is synonymous with words like “milestone” and “turning point.” Epithets that do little to soften the blows from AARP cards coming in the mail and children who remind us that fifty is half a century. Certainly, it’s an age that begs us to take stock. Once, a long time ago, I thought I would be an actress. When the kids entered grade school, I began teaching drama at Belvedere, a poor substitute for the stage but my life had changed: I was married with children. Another physics professor, a colleague of Carl’s, once joked that I was undoubtedly Carl’s id: Carl was matter and I was spirit. Carl was concrete where I was abstract. Diametric opposition, he said, but of course, they say that opposites attract. It was that sort of evaluation, that coming-of-age examination of myself and my marriage, that occupied me for the months before my birthday.

I took the appointment book from Ginny’s desk and flipped through the pages. “People don’t just disappear,” I said, closing the book, placing it back on the desk, reassuring myself as much as I was reassuring her.

“I hope he’s OK,” she said softly.

“Carl can take care of himself,” I said unconvincingly.

Ginny nodded—just as unconvincingly.

“Are you sure nothing odd happened in the last day or so?” I sounded more like a detective than a wife. “You’re not forgetting something?”

“I don’t think so, Ms. Hughes.”

“Anything distressing about a grant he didn’t get or something like that? That always eats him up inside.”

Ginny paled. “You’re not thinking he was in some sort of state?”

“No. Not at all. I’m thinking that maybe there’s something he failed to mention or just mentioned casually. Maybe he had to meet with administration or something.” I swallowed. “You know, like something last-minute.”

She was pulling up Carl’s e-mails now. I looked over her shoulder and could see it was mostly spam. “It’s been a quiet week,” she said.

“So, nothing?”

“Well, he met with a student on Monday who wanted to change his lab date.” Ginny inhaled deeply. “But that happens all the time.”

“What does?”

“Kids wanting to change labs and tests and whatever.”

“And Carl usually handles that?”

“No, actually, he doesn’t,” she said. “Dr. Larkin just happened to be in the outside office and, since I was on a phone call to NIH, Dr. Larkin was good enough to take care of it.”

“And?”

“And nothing. The boy changed his lab and that was that.”

“Well, I tell you what. I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything and you do the same.” I smiled. “I’m sure by the end of the day, we’ll have this all straightened out. Now if he calls you ...”

“I’ll have him get in touch with you right away, Ms. Hughes, not to worry.”

I squeezed her hand. “Thanks, Ginny.”

I made a loop around the campus just to see if Carl’s car was parked outside one of the other buildings. I even drove by the dorms, though I knew that Carl had to be smarter than to park his car by a dorm if he was having an affair with a coed. I went to the Shell station hoping his car was there with a flat, or that his car was due for inspection or something. I drove back to campus and was late for my class. I checked in with Ginny before rehearsal for Antigone later that afternoon.

“Ms. Hughes, you don’t think you should call...”

“The police?” I asked, my heart pounding. “I’m not sure.”

“Is there anything else I can do?”

I looked at my watch. “It’s almost five, Ginny. Why don’t you just go home?”

It was nearly seven when I left the auditorium. I checked my cell phone even though I’d left it turned on throughout rehearsal. There were no messages. Last fall was unseasonably warm until mid-November. The leaves never turned the way they usually did—just fell lifeless to the ground. As I walked to my car, the combination of pitch black and balmy warmth was particularly disorienting. There was a scent of smoke and dust in the air. I’d mentioned it to Carl just the evening before when we were walking Emmet, our half-Lab, half-Shepherd.

“What is that smell?” I asked.

“Mold,” he said, matter-of-factly.

“Mold? Can you smell mold? Really?”

“When it’s bad enough.”

I shrugged. “That’s it?”

“Mold and mildew,” he said. He smiled at me. “What did you think?”

“I was hoping for something more romantic. Shooting stars heating up the earth.”

“Shooting stars are just temporary. They’re really just rocks that catch fire. They don’t scorch the earth.”

You see? Duality of pairs.

Even though Carl’s car wasn’t in the driveway, I called his name as I walked in the door. I was enveloped with emptiness when there was no answer. I thought of Sophie and Daniel and how I would explain that their father was missing.

I was hanging up my coat when I caught my image in the oval mirror that hangs above the boot bench in our vestibule. For a moment someone else was there. Surely, it wasn’t my reflection. Mine would be someone younger, with a defined jaw and wide eyes. A sense of time and dread came over me like webbing.

I heard the faint drone of the old boiler and the hollow clicks of my heels on the ceramic floor. Our ramshackle house on the Connecticut River suddenly felt unfamiliar. It appeared dilapidated, accusing me of neglect: The carpets were shiny with age and sprinkled with paint chips. There were piles of papers in places where papers didn’t belong—on the dining table and the kitchen counter. Old newspapers, unopened mail. Junk. Too much junk lying around. Emmet nuzzled my leg. He’d been sleeping in his spot under the kitchen table.

“Some watchdog you are, “ I said, stroking his head. “So, tell me, where is he?”

I opened and closed the refrigerator. The thought of food was unappealing although my stomach growled. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I walked up the stairs and opened doors to every room, slowly, carefully, afraid of what I might find—Carl crumpled on a floor, beyond resuscitation—something horrific like that. Finding nothing was a relief.

It seemed rather premature, but I called the police. My hands shook as I dialed.

“Willow Police.”

“My husband didn’t show up for work this morning,” I said. “He’s missing.”

“Hang on,” the person sang as though I called for a hair appointment.

I was patched through to the detective division where Detective Rossi listened as I explained that Carl never got to work that morning. The detective punctuated his attention with “uh-huh” every few seconds.

“So, why do you want to report him missing if he just didn’t show up for work?”

“Because he always shows up for work.”

“We don’t take reports on competent adults with no medical or mental history for forty-eight hours,” he said. “He doesn’t have one, right?”

“Right.”

“What’s his license plate?”

I told him and he left the line for a moment. “We have no reports on the car.”

“What does that mean?”

“No accidents. Not stolen.”

“I see.”

“Ma’am, are you having marital problems?”

“No. Well, I mean, every marriage has something,” I said defensively.

And then he just went on. Do you think he’s having an affair? Does he have a drinking problem? Did you argue before he left? Did he leave at the same time that morning? Did he wear the clothes that morning that he usually wears? How was his demeanor last night? Has he ever disappeared like this before? Any enemies? Friends I could call and who might know where he’d gone. What about his cell phone?

When I said that Carl didn’t own a cell phone, that surprised the detective more than Carl’s disappearance.

“Call Sunday if he’s not back by then,” he said as though I’d merely lost my wallet.

“Sunday? But he’s my husband.”

“That’s protocol, ma’am. Sorry.”

I was about to hang up when he said, “Oh, and you might want to check the twenty-four-hour line at the bank.”

“What for?”

“Cash withdrawals,” he said bluntly.

“I don’t understand.”

“Sometimes, if someone is planning to leave for a while, they’ll take cash with them.”

Clearly Detective Rossi had been down this road before, and I wondered how many wives called for the same reason. I called the bank and nothing had been withdrawn from either checking or savings. Part of me thought I might have felt better had he emptied an account. At least then I would have known this was calculated, that he was alive and had simply left me. Emmet nuzzled me again. I patted his head but he kept pulling at my hand. In all the commotion, I’d forgotten to feed him.

We keep a thirty-pound bag of food in a covered barrel in the mud room. I grabbed Emmet’s bowl and there, taped to the side of the barrel, was a blue envelope with the Belvedere insignia.

Dear Livi,
Forgive me. I have started this letter a half dozen times and conclude that the only thing I can tell you right now is that I am fine. I haven’t lost my mind and intend no harm to come to myself. I will explain. I promise. I’ll call by Monday. I do love you.
Carl

I read the letter over and over, trying to read between the few scrawled lines, astonished and frightened because Carl said he loved me. When was the last time we’d told each other? I couldn’t remember. I folded the letter into my pocket and grabbed my coat. I needed to go down to the river. Emmet abandoned his food and followed me. I used to take Daniel and Sophie to the river when they were little. We’d pack a picnic basket and bring piles of picture books and Old Maid cards and sit on the weathered dock until the sun set over the old foot-bridge that crossed the narrows.

Another wife might have waited by the telephone or sat and wrung her hands that night. She might have called friends for comfort and conversation, vacillating between worry and anger, rationalization and fear. Honestly, except for Nina and my parents, there was no one to call. I was as much a loner as Carl.

Instead, Carl’s absence lured me to a place I’d resisted and needed to think about—back to the summer of 1978 when it was I who disappeared, only to return a few years later as Carl Larkin’s wife.

CHAPTER TWO
Olivia


In 1978, my mother was only five years older than I am today. She is eighty now, and still the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. Even her skin remains strangely smooth and supple. Back then, she wore narrow black pedal pushers and a crisp white shirt, her thick dark hair tied back in a bright kerchief. Now, she wears baby-blue or blush-pink housecoats and her hair falls in thin silver wisps around her face. The sparkle has left her blue eyes. My father is seven years older than my mother. Until just a year or so ago, he knew my name. Now he calls me Nina sometimes, and sometimes he calls my sister Olivia. He also calls me Evelyn, his older sister who died when they were children. But he never forgets my mother’s name. “Margaret! Meg!” he frequently calls for no discernible reason yet my mother runs toward the sound of his voice each time. He needs to know that she’s still there. All she wants is to be there beside him.

My parents, Henry and Margaret Hughes, still live in the simple putty-colored house on the beach in Chatham where I grew up in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It has a single brick chimney and a slate path set in equal squares leading to a door nestled under a small covered porch. It is the house where my father grew up with four brothers and two sisters. It is filled with memories carved into wood floors and etched on windowpanes in the form of initials, names, and dates— reminding us who was once there.

Throughout his life, my father swore that Cape Cod was the best place to live. The only place to live. He wouldn’t, as we say on the Cape, go over the bridge. He’d been to Europe once, during the War, and swore he’d never cross the sea again for “good reason” and never did. He flew the flag on our front porch from Memorial Day through Labor Day and would have flown it right into winter if not for the snow and ice that could cause damage.

My mother always wanted to go to Italy. She’s never been abroad or anywhere north of Quebec, west of Amherst, or south of Washington, D.C. Last year, after Daniel went off to college, Nina and my mother and I planned a ten-day trip to Italy—we’d fly into Florence and drive the Amalfi coast—but then my father’s mind began to fail and she wouldn’t leave him. Nina and I believed that even if he had been strong and clear, she would have found a last- minute excuse not to go. In their fifty-eight years together, they’d never been apart for more than a few days and that was when she gave birth to us. Nina and I went to Florence and Venice, and brought back Venetian glass and silk scarves for our mother. She opened the boxes and squealed like a child at Christmas, winding all the beaded strands around her neck at once and layering the scarves on top of them. “You’d think I was the one who was getting daft!” she said, laughing. Getting daft: My father was further gone than daft but my mother clung to hope.

One summer morning in 1978, my mother went into town and bought a small tub of rouge at the pharmacy, an enormous departure for this woman whose only cosmetic was the salt air. It was way too red for her complexion, painting her with a tubercular look that did little to cover the pallor which drained the rose of her cheeks. I had taken a toll on her that summer. She didn’t leave my side, barely slept, and didn’t walk the beach or tend the garden with my father as she usually did in summer. Looking back, I now know it wasn’t only my life that changed that summer. She tiptoed into my room each night, gripping the doorknob tightly, turning it slowly so I wouldn’t be awakened by the catch, much the same way she did when Nina was an infant and I watched while her palm lay on Nina’s back, feeling her breathe. The same way Nina and I did with our babies. My mother studied me that summer. Was I that fragile? I was certain she thought I might die of a broken heart. What other reason was there to watch me sleep? I always heard the catch and then the creak of the old door but I pretended to be sleeping. That was what she wanted. Besides, pretending was my strong suit that summer, and perhaps since then as well.

One afternoon, my mother carried a painted tray with a pitcher of amber iced tea circled by four cranberry-colored glass mugs into the sun room where I sat each day for nearly two months. She set down the tray on the baby grand piano and came to me, placing her cool lips on my forehead and the back of her hand against my cheek as she had when I was a little girl and had a fever. When she was young, my mother was a registered nurse. She had a way about her that was calm and easy and confident whenever Nina and I were sick. But her lips to my forehead was just another helpless gesture that summer.

I suppose she hoped my lethargy was merely the result of a fever or some physical but mild illness that could be explained and cured with a Bufferin. If only my immobilizing pain was something other than despair that kept me motionless on the cushioned seat below the beveled window that looked over Nantucket Sound. My old thinking place. I called it My Escape on the Cape. When I was a teenager, I drew the lined floral chintz draperies around me, lost in dreamy late-night thoughts that read like poetry. The only light came from the rhythmic blinking of the beacon from the Chatham Lighthouse and, on clear nights, the moon. That summer, each time I drew the draperies around me, longing to burrow into a cocoon, someone tore them open with a jarring pull of the string or frantic struggle to separate them at the middle and then, with visible relief, they asked if I was OK, their breath still caught in their throats when they saw I was upright. The phone rang continually—neighbors and friends and relatives—calling to ask “How’s Livi today?” as though by some miracle I might have healed overnight.

My mother filled the mugs, talking half to herself and half to me. I ignored her, leaning back against the wall, the draperies caught behind me, the fabric straining precariously from the cornice overhead. I sat with my knees bent, my hands limply on my thighs. A flowing yellow batik skirt grazed the arch of my bare feet, a beige crocheted shawl that had been my grandmother’s covered my shoulders.

“You’re going to pull down that cornice if you lean against it like that,” my mother cautioned. I didn’t answer.

“Careful, Livi. Move the fabric.”

I leaned forward so the draperies fell away from me.

“So hot today, Livi,” my mother said, forcing a lilt to her voice. “Your father’s been watering the garden all morning. It’s just drinking it up. We could use some rain. I can’t recall a drier summer.”

My father’s heavier footsteps came into the hall. His gardening shoes dropped to the floor. He came into the sun porch and, from the corner of my eye, I saw his head cock in my direction as he looked at my mother, who responded with a not-subtle-enough negative shake of hers. My father placed his rough hand on my shoulder, a gesture filled with a thousand words of comfort. I pressed my cheek into his hand that smelled faintly of roses and damp earth. His tenderness made everything feel worse since my father was, typically, gruff and resisted sentiment. A cry welled in my throat as he cupped my cheek in his palm and I felt that my bones might dissolve and turn to dust. Just then, Nina came in, her bell-bottom jeans trailing along the floor, a broad multicolored cloth belt hanging down one side, her peasant blouse slipping off her suntanned shoulder. Nina was my guardian angel that summer. She positioned herself on the window seat opposite me, kicked off her sandals, and placed her bare feet on top of mine.

“How come your feet are so cold?” she asked, squiggling her toes against mine. “Here, I’ll warm them up.”

“Look at the strings on those denims, Nina,” my father said. “People will think I can’t afford to buy you decent clothes.”

“It’s really not attractive, Nina,” my mother said. “I could hem them, you know. Or at least let me trim them with the pinking shears. You look like a street urchin.”

Nina sighed. “They’re not denims. They’re blue jeans and I like them this way. They’re called Landlubbers and they cost twenty dollars. Street urchins can’t afford Landlubbers.”

On one hand, I wanted my family to go away, to silence them. On the other, their banter and vain attempts to cajole me made me feel alive.

“Today is one month,” I said. My voice sounded guttural and remote.

“We know,” Nina said, her eyes wide as she stared at me, her mouth forming the words as one might speak to someone who reads lips.

I leaned forward and placed my hands between my knees. “You can’t all keep up the vigil, you know. I’m not in a coma. It’s like you’re waiting for me to come to. I don’t know what you want from me.”

“Now, now,” my mother said, pouring an iced tea and handing it to my father. “Enough of that talk. Here, Henry.”

“You steep this in the sun, Margaret?” my father asked after taking a sip. “I tell you this isn’t tea. This is nectar, Olivia. Sweet, sweet nectar.”

My father always said that whenever my mother handed him a glass of iced tea filled with fresh lemon juice that she squeezed in the ceramic hand press.

“You say the same thing every time,” I said, massaging the back of my neck and shutting my eyes. When I looked up, their gazes were fixed on me. “What?”

“Well, it is like nectar,” my father said defensively, picking up where we’d left off.

“I’ll take one, Mommy,” I said.

Her face brightened. “Now you see? This isn’t a vigil,” she said. “Livi, I thought maybe you and Nina and I could drive up to Provincetown this evening. There’s a new little café and a street art show. Brass bas-relief sculpture. Or we can see what’s showing at the Dennis Playhouse. Your father’s got a VFW meeting tonight so he won’t miss us. Right, Henry? Veterans tonight, isn’t it?”

Did she think if she kept talking, everything might feel right?

“I don’t think so,” I said. “You and Nina can go though. I’ll be fine.”

“I don’t think you should stay alone . . . ” my mother said, a look of alarm on her face.

Nina touched my arm. “Come on, Livi. Try. Come. You can’t just sit here all the time.”

Nina was twenty that summer, five years younger than I. My mother tried for eight years to conceive me and finally succeeded at the age of thirty. Nina was the surprise. We were both lean, muscular girls with long straight brown hair parted in the center. Large brown eyes fringed with thick lashes, straight noses, and heart-shaped lips. People always asked if we were twins. Now, people (rude people, Nina says, laughing) ask who’s older. Since I turned fifty, I think it annoys Nina.

Nina took a deep breath. “Noah would want you to go tonight, Livi. He would.”

“Nina!” my mother admonished. “Really!”

No one had mentioned Noah’s name in weeks.

“It’s OK, Mommy,” I said. Did she think it hurt more to hear his name?

“I’m sorry, Livi,” Nina said quietly. “Sorry.”

I looked at her face. She loved him, too. Had I forgotten? She was only fourteen when they met and had an instant crush on him. He always played “Little Sister” when she was around and made her blush when he lip-synced the song to her.

I set the iced tea on the floor beside me. I tried to keep my voice even but it broke despite my effort. My breath came out in short spurts through my nose as I spoke. “He would want me to go. I just don’t know if I can.”

“Just for a little while,” Nina whispered. “Try.”

“I don’t want to.” I shut my eyes. I pictured his face. His carved fine-boned features. Wavy dark hair that was flecked with gold in the summer. The way he smiled at me and his eyes nearly danced. I pictured him shirtless, standing at our kitchen counter, reading the back of a cereal box while he waited for his toast to pop. His taut stomach with the thin trail of hair that went to his navel. I knew every inch of his body.

“An actor?” my father growled when I first told him about Noah. “I knew if you went to that drama school in New York you’d end up with some actor. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Olivia, you know what actors are like. Every damn one of them ends up waiting tables, and if they make a success of themselves they leave their wives and kids in the lurch and father kids out of wedlock and . . . ”

I laughed. “He’s different, Daddy. You’ll see. He’s perfect.”

Then my father muttered something about no man being perfect and that damn Rudolph Valentino and stormed into his study.

But Noah was different. Noah and I spent our first weekend in Chatham six months after we’d met and about three months after we started not-so-secretly living together in the apartment on West Fourth Street. I was three weeks shy of nineteen and he was twenty-two.

That weekend Noah helped my father hang two particularly stubborn accordion doors and sand the deck. Even my father couldn’t hide the fact that he was impressed. Noah stood behind my mother as she stirred fish chowder, his hand on her back as he peered into the pot and asked for a taste as a son would, not just a daughter’s boyfriend. He and Nina shot hoops in the driveway and he taught her to dribble the ball behind her back. And then, after dinner that night, he walked into my father’s study. God, he was so bold. My father was read- ing the evening paper and Noah said, “I’m in love with your daughter, Mr. Hughes.”

I was peeking through the crack of the door.

My father set the newspaper on his lap. “Is she in love with you, too?”

Noah smiled. “She is. But I want you to know that I’ll always make her happy, Mr. Hughes,” Noah said. “I promise. You have my word.”

How could someone with so ardent a promise have allowed what happened?

I first met Noah in the corridor of New York College’s main building. I never walked in those days. I ran. Everything I did was at lightning speed, a result, I think, of the military way in which my father issued commands. He’d call me to help with something and then he’d punctuate the sentence with “Hurry up, Olivia!” I’d run to please him only to have him chastise me for rushing. So, there I was juggling books on top of an open bottle of Coca-Cola, holding a half-eaten donut from a white wax bag and, as I rounded a corner full-speed, there was Noah. He was moving in long deliberate strides, but I couldn’t put on the brakes in time. We collided, the soda splashing into the air like a geyser and drenching him.

“Whoa! You always take the corners that fast? What did you do? Rob a bank?” He looked down at his soaked shirt and shook droplets of soda from a clipboard which held what appeared to be a script.

I recognized him from my Bergman class. He had one of those faces that reeked of movie star. “No. I mean, yes. Sorry. I am so sorry. Oh, God, look what I did to you.”

I was mortified.

He pulled the wet T-shirt from his chest and handed me the clipboard. “Could you just take this for a moment, please?”

I fumbled with my books, trying to find a place to set them down before they tumbled so I could take the clipboard.

“Never mind,” he said, a smile curling on his lips as he set the clipboard on the floor and wiped his hands on his jeans.

“I have tissues,” I said digging into my jacket pocket. “Somewhere. Oh wait, better, I have napkins in the bag here . . . Oh God, they’re sopped. I’m so sorry.”

“Sopped? It’s OK,” he said, trying not to laugh. “I’ll dry.”

“I feel awful.”

“I’m Noah. You?”

I stared at him. “I’m sorry,” I said again.

He laughed. “That’s your name?”

“What?”

“What’s your name? I mean, don’t you think we should know each other’s names at this point? We’ve had a rather intimate encounter.”

“Olivia,” I said. “Livi.”

“Livi. I like that. Listen. It’s OK. I was surprised. That’s all.” I felt him looking at me but my eyes were down. “Hey, aren’t you in the Bergman class?”

He’d noticed me. I nodded. “Yeah.”

“Drama major, or are you just taking it for fun when you’re not running track?”

“Drama major,” I said, missing the joke.

He placed his hand on my shoulder. “Honest. It’s OK.” He looked at the clock as the bell rang. “So, I’ll see you in class later, right?”

“Right,” I said, my cheeks getting hotter by the minute and feeling less than brilliant.

Ugh. Could I have been any more tongue-tied? I felt like a total idiot, standing frozen, staring at his wet shirt as it molded to his chest and shoulders.

He waited for me after class that afternoon. I hadn’t seen him in the lecture hall but there were more than two hundred people in the room and I was afraid to look.

“You changed your shirt,” I said, thinking how good he looked dry.

“Yeah, seemed like a good idea,” he said with a laugh. “Listen, you want to get a beer?”

“I can’t. I’m supposed to meet with the TA for this course.”

Noah shook his head. “Emerson? A real bastard. I hear.”

“I never heard that.”

“Oh, yeah. Clear case of a guy abusing his power. I take it you never met him? ”

I shook my head no.

“Try not to stare at the wart on his nose.”

“Wart?”

“It’s this big thing that kind of hangs off the side . . . ”

“I heard he was . . . ” I didn’t finish my sentence.

“You heard he was what?”

“I don’t know. Nice looking, I guess.” I blushed.

“You’re joking? Emerson?”

“Oh, well, there’s not much I can do now. I have a two o’clock appointment and I don’t want to be late. He said I have twenty minutes. I’m not clear on Bergman. He’s so, well, you know, esoteric.” Good word, I thought. Maybe he wouldn’t think I was such a dunce.

“Well, how about if I meet you outside his office around two-twenty then?”

“You?”

“Yeah, me.”

“I don’t know if we’ll be done by then.”

“Oh, you’ll be done.”

“How do you know?”

“When Emerson says twenty minutes, he means twenty minutes. And don’t be late either. The guy’s a time freak. He’ll deduct points for tardiness.”

“Come on. No one’s that bad.”

Noah shrugged. “It’s your hanging. See you later.”

I knocked on Emerson’s door just moments after two o’clock.

“Come in,” a deep voice boomed. “You’re late, Miss Hughes.”

The office was empty when I opened the door. “Mr. Emerson?” I called. My knees shook. What appeared to be a closet door was open. Suddenly, it slammed shut and a man came from behind. He wore a blue slicker, the hood tied beneath his chin.

“Noah Emerson, at your service.”

“You? You’re Mr. Emerson? I thought you had to be a grad student. Oh, God.” I wanted to sink through the floor. “What is this? Payback for the soda incident?”

“To answer your first question, Miss Hughes, a TA can be either a grad student or an academically gifted senior.” He bowed. “As for what you have so aptly termed the soda incident, Miss Hughes, you don’t have any sort of liquid refreshment with you, do you? But, as you can see, I am totally prepared.” He popped open an orange umbrella that was leaning inside the closet door.

“You’re crazy! Where did you get all that stuff?”

“Props department. Sixth-floor theater.”

“Close the umbrella! It’s bad luck indoors.” I couldn’t stop laughing.

“I don’t believe in bad luck, Miss Hughes.” Noah closed the umbrella, pulled the slicker over his head and pushed the hair back from his forehead. “Now what’s the problem with Bergman? Too deep? Too dark? Too dry, if you will? You don’t like dry from what I’ve witnessed, do you, Miss Hughes?”

I couldn’t stop laughing. “Maybe we should just go for that beer.”

Noah smiled. “I’m really here to help you. They actually pay me to do this.”

“I can’t think straight. I don’t even remember what I wanted to ask.”

“Well, maybe it’ll come to you over the beer.”

“This was a dirty trick, you know.”

“I couldn’t resist.” He smiled. “I’ll buy the beers.”

He opened the office door and placed his hand on my back as we walked out together. It took months for me to admit that it was my best friend Millie who encouraged me to meet the TA for the Bergman course. I understood Bergman just fine but Millie said that “Emerson” was rumored to be the cutest TA on campus.

Noah and I were inseparable from that moment on. Six months later we rented the tiny apartment on West Fourth. The whole place could have fit into my parents’ living room, but it was amazing. It even had a rooftop garden. Actually, it was just a five-by-ten tarred flat roof where the previous tenant had left a rotted-out planter filled with cigarette butts and empty pints of Southern Comfort. We painted the tarred surface a deep green and Noah built a new planter where we planted basil and thyme and chives and marigolds. We bought two red canvas sling chairs at Azuma on Eighth Street and rescued a battered table someone had tossed on the curb and painted it with a red and white checkerboard pattern. In winter, we brought the table and chairs inside, slid them under our bed, and put the planter in the kitchen by the window. That first winter together after we brought the “roof” inside, we painted a mural of a sunrise behind our bed. We made our own world.

We married right after I graduated, with my father’s blessing, although he never liked the idea that we lived in New York City. Finally, he resigned himself to what he called our need to get it out of our system—“it” being the city.

“One day you’ll come to your senses and move out to the Cape,” he said. “Why in God’s name would anyone live on some claustrophobic cement island when you can live at the tip of the ocean? No wonder the place cost twenty-four dollars. You get what you pay for.”

During the day Noah and I auditioned for plays—on Broadway, off-Broadway, in theaters with makeshift stages, and theaters that were there one day and gone the next. And at the end of every day, before our night shifts began at the restaurant where we eked out a living, we showered together and washed away stage make-up and all the sweat and soot that seemed to cling to us as we raced around Manhattan, and then we’d make love.

The summer of ’78 was the first time we talked about leaving Manhattan. It wasn’t the city we had known even just a few years before when Washington Square Park was filled with “peaceniks,” as my father called them, strumming guitars and handing out anti-war leaflets. The boutiques and restaurants and mom-and-pop shops were closing down and giving way to chains like Nedick’s and Whelan’s and fast food places like Nathan’s and Zum Zum. A lot of the little pubs we’d gone to in college were shutting down. Drug addicts and street people, derelicts for lack of a better description, drove the “peaceniks” from the park and wandered the streets and huddled in doorways. Even our apartment building was littered with empty liquor bottles and needles, and painted with obscene graffiti.

We had a long talk the Sunday night before it happened. We were sipping Mateus on the rooftop before we went to work.

“Sometimes I think we should just chuck it all and move out by your folks on the Cape,” Noah said. “Open an acting studio or something. I always loved the city but it’s not feeling so good anymore. It’s changing. Not to mention that auditions aren’t going so great.”

It was a lot to say for someone like Noah who was a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker. Brooklyn boy through and through.

“You’re serious?” I asked.

He nodded. “I want to have a ton of kids. I want my ark, you know?” He grinned. “Two by two . . . ”

“A ton of kids?” I leaned against him. “How many?”

He shrugged. “Eight. Twelve. And twin girls. I definitely want twin girls.”

“Why twin girls?”

“Two more of you,” he said, pulling me closer to him. “Two more skinny little brown-haired girls who walk too fast and gesture wildly with their hands and have heart-shaped lips and big brown eyes. Morgan and Tyler.”

“Those sound like boys’ names. Or a law firm.” I laughed. “Besides, girls usually look like the father.”

He shook his head. “Nope. Not these girls. I have it all planned.”

“You do, do you?” I kissed his cheek.

“But we can’t raise kids in the city. Not anymore.” He sighed.

“You know Jeannie from the flower shop across the street? Her bike was stolen yesterday. She always chains it to the meter and someone cut right through the chain. It was broad daylight.”

“So we should give this some thought,” he said. “Serious thought. I’m not saying to do this right away. A year, maybe. Maybe two. I mean, if we had to, we could live with your folks for a while, right? We have options, right?”

Options. Noah loved options and visions and dreaming. Nothing was ever carved in stone for Noah. Nothing except for the two of us. Noah had the uncanny ability to take the most dire situation and spin it until it became serendipity, with either a lesson learned or a reason attached to it. When he didn’t get a role he’d auditioned for, he said it was for the best since a better role would come along. He said that his view of life was validated the day we met. If I hadn’t come flying around the bend with a bottle of Coca-Cola, I would have just been another girl in the Bergman class. Instead we got to look into each other’s eyes and from that moment on he knew. It was preordained, he said. A chance meeting that wasn’t really a chance.

While I sat on the window sill that summer, I wondered what he would have said of that night in July. Would he have said that was preordained, too? How would Noah have spun that?

We went to work after our talk and, as always, the restaurant was jammed. The bar was three deep and people waited in a line that stretched to the street. But tips would be good that night and the next day was Monday, when the restaurant was closed. Monday was our favorite day. I’d stop at Jefferson Market after auditions and buy the same thing each time: French bread, a wedge of cheese (Brie or Camembert, and to this day I can eat neither), a half pound of chuck, one onion, one green pepper, a can of tomato sauce, a can of tomato paste, and a bag of spaghetti. Noah usually brought home a bottle of wine. Mondays meant we’d have dinner together at our kitchen table with candles, or up on the roof if the weather was good, instead of standing at the end of the bar in the restaurant wolfing down whatever the manager said we could eat that night. Noah got home first on Mondays since I stopped at the market. He’d be waiting on the sofa in a pair of soft jeans and, depending on the season, either his favorite baggy cable-knit gray sweater or a worn T-shirt. Sometimes he’d be strumming his guitar, a cold beer on the table and another waiting for me in the fridge. When I got home that Monday, Noah wasn’t there.

I was washing my face when I heard his key in the door.

“Where were you?” I called from the bathroom as I dried my face.

“Come here!” he called back.

I walked into the living room, the face cloth still in my hand.

“You’re all pink!” he said. He handed me a single white rose, picked me up in the air and twirled me around. “I got it! I got the part! In this play called Da! Can you believe it?”

I jumped up and straddled his hips with my legs. “Oh my God! When did you hear?”

“I stopped at Elaine’s on the way home. Don’t even ask me why. I mean I wasn’t planning to. I was at this audition today for a toothpaste commercial—that I didn’t get, by the way, so we’re no longer buying Pepsodent—in some hell hole of a building on West Fifty-Seventh Street by the river and when I was walking to the subway I thought I’d just stop up at Elaine’s and see if she’d gotten us anything.” He took a breath. “Anyway, I walk in the door and she says she was just about to call me. She says ‘you must have ESP or something because the producer just called and you got the part.’ Rehearsal starts next week. Two hundred a week, Livi. I’m buying champagne!”

“Champagne!” I said, laughing with tears in my eyes. “Noah, this is so wonderful. I am so proud of you.”

“You’re next, baby. Your turn is coming. I can feel it.”

God, I loved when he called me baby. “We’ll see. Listen, I’m starving. I’m going to start dinner.”

“No, first we’re going to have champagne.” Noah was adamant. “We’re celebrating.”

“Well, ginger ale, maybe. I have two dollars in my purse.”

“Raid the cookie jar, woman!”

“That’s for emergencies.”

“This is an emergency. How much do we have?”

“Twenty-three dollars and seventeen cents.”

“What’s with the seventeen cents?”

“I started saving pennies.”

“No more pennies for us.” He dragged me by the hand to the bedroom.

“What are you doing?”

He spoke in a French accent. “First I make love to zee wife. Then zee champagne.”

“I thought it was the other way around. I thought you’re supposed to get me drunk first.”

“Nah, why waste good champagne? You’ve always been easy.”

“Oh yeah? Easy for you,” I said, blushing.

“Easy for me,” he said softly kissing my face. “Do you know how much I love you, Mrs. Emerson?”

“I love you more,” I said.

That was our only argument: who loved who more.

“Impossible,” he said seriously. “It’s just not possible.”

We fell asleep afterward, tangled in one another while the sun set and the night became more humid. We walked up to the roof in our robes.

“It’s going to storm,” Noah said as a clap of thunder rolled. “I should go before it rains.”

“We don’t need champagne. We already celebrated.”

He smiled. “I know. But we should have champagne. You know how your dad always pulls out champagne on special occasions.”

“Wait ’til I tell Henry you’re emulating him,” I teased.

“The liquor store over on Sixth is open until nine.”

“Why that one? We always go to Viola’s.”

“Viola’s is closed. It’s after seven.”

“It’s far,” I pouted.

“It’s a block away.”

“I’m starving.”

“Have something to hold you.”

I laughed. “Something to hold me? Where did that come from?”

“Sorry I was temporarily possessed by an old woman.” He laughed. “My grandmother used to say that. Listen, start cooking. I’ll be back in a blink.”

He gathered my hair in his hands and let it slip through his fingers onto my shoulders. I put my arms around his waist and leaned against his chest. “You’re sure you’ll still want all those kids? Will success spoil Noah Emerson?”

He wrapped his arms beneath my robe and caressed my bare back. “You know it’s funny. This is all so great but I still keep thinking about that little place on the Cape.” He took a deep breath. “I can’t explain it. I’m happy about the part and this is something I need to do, but this isn’t ‘it,’ you know what I mean? Does that sound make any sense?”

“It?”

“Yeah, you know, it. There’s just more to life than . . . I just feel there’s more, that’s all.”

I nodded. “Well, we have time to do both, right?”

“Right.”

“I’m going to watch you in that show every night, you know.”

He kissed my mouth and I will never forget that kiss. He murmured “I love you,” and I murmured back to him and then I said, “Go. Before it begins to pour. The sooner you go, the sooner you’ll come home.”

We walked down the few stairs into the apartment. He stopped at the landing to take my hand as I stepped down. He pulled on his jeans and T-shirt. The rain was coming down in buckets when he left. He slipped into the sandals he left by the door and I told him that his feet would get soaked. I handed him the umbrella from the painted coffee can that we kept on the landing. He kissed my neck and he was gone.

I was cutting the baguette into narrow slices when I heard the sirens below the kitchen window. They got louder and stopped nearby with short staccato beats. Cars honked and wheels screeched and diesel fumes wafted through the open window. A fire engine clanged and wailed and came to a stop. A man called through a bullhorn to clear the area. I washed out two wineglasses, thinking that Noah should be back any moment, but my hands were shaking. I looked at the clock again. The minute hand was no longer moving.

I believe in different kinds of magic. The kinds of magic that made me collide with Noah in the hallway that day and the kind that stops a clock because something is wrong. Like a somnambulist making my way by sheer instinct, I dried my hands on a kitchen towel, took the house keys from my purse, and walked down the four flights to the street. There were flashing red lights on Sixth Avenue. The block away where the liquor store was. He was probably standing there in the crowd and watching, I thought, my heart pounding, my mouth so dry I couldn’t swallow. Another poor bum scraped off the sidewalk, I told myself. Another stoned street person staggering into the intersection. I walked straight ahead and pushed my way through the human chain that lined the street, not caring that people were pushing me back. I heard someone say that the liquor store had been held up. A man was shot. I began to scream Noah’s name. I moaned his name. It came from a place deep inside me where I never want to go again. A police officer approached, placed his hand on my shoulders and squared himself in front of me.

“Whose name are you calling, miss?” he asked.

“My husband,” I sobbed. “Noah. Noah Emerson. My husband.” My knees began to buckle. I knew.

The police officer was solemn as he pulled me through the crowd. The ambulance was just leaving. He sat me down in the back of the patrol car with another officer. “He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” the officer said as I wept.

But Noah said there were reasons for everything, I thought. No. Something was wrong. This was all wrong. There was no reason for this.

I waited in the hallway of St. Vincent’s Hospital in a stiff metal chair while Noah was in surgery, the scent of him still on my hands; the taste of him still in my mouth; my blouse stained with his blood. The nurses had let me lean over him and kiss him before they took him to the operating room. They must have known. Someone asked whom they could call for me and I gave them Millie’s number. I didn’t have the heart to call my parents or Nina. Besides, they were all too far away. Millie appeared just moments before the surgeon appeared an hour later.

“We tried,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”

The next thing I remember is morning. I can’t remember going back to the apartment but, when I awakened, Millie was sitting beside me on the bed, holding my hand. I knew something horrible had happened. I felt disoriented and panicky—the way I once felt in a hall of mirrors when I was a kid, clamoring to find my way out. Later that summer, Millie said the doctors kept me after Noah died. They gave me a shot of something and wouldn’t let me go home.

My parents and Nina appeared and Millie moved aside, making way for my mother, who took Millie’s place beside me. She cradled and rocked me and stroked my hair. My father stood at the foot of my bed. He was crying, and clearing his throat to hide that he was—the same way he did at my wedding. Nina stood with Millie, their sobs muffled in an embrace. I buried my head in the pillow next to mine where Noah’s head had lain beside me for the last six years, his wedding band clutched in my fist.

I have never been to visit Noah’s grave. I have thought about it over the years but what is the point of looking at a stone engraved with his name? I wanted to speak at the funeral but I couldn’t. Noah’s brother, Tim, gave the eulogy. My father was a pallbearer. There must have been a hundred people there: friends, relatives, professors, people from the restaurant—customers and staff. I wasn’t the only person who loved Noah.

The day of the funeral my parents and Nina and I drove out to the house in Chatham. My eyes were shut as I sat in the back of the Roadmaster curled up beside my sister. I heard my parents’ muted conversation in the front seat, felt the curves in the road and the warm sunlight through the windows and smelled the sea air as we approached the Cape. I felt Nina’s arm tighten around me and I couldn’t understand how it was possible to still have my senses since the better part of me died that Monday night with Noah.

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Average Rating 4.5
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2005

    3.5 stars

    Olivia had no idea anything was wrong until she got a note one day saying her husband, Carl Larkin, had left her. It was not for good, but Olivia was stunned. Her struggles to make sense of it all take her back to the past, where she remembers her first love who was struck down in the prime of life. Meanwhile, Carl is on a journey into his own past, one that Olivia has no idea exists. Carl has risked everything to make peace with who he once was. Can Olivia accept the truth about her husband? ....................... **** Fans of Nicholas Sparks will want to add this author to their collection. The alternating first person narratives are unusually well done, so that what is normally an annoying format has a natural ease and rightness. This is a book with depth and poignance that will move all but the hardest hearts. ****

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    deep character study

    Belvedere College Professors Olivia and Carl Larkin enjoy teaching, love their two children, Daniel and Sophie, who are away at school, and appreciate life in Willow, Massachusetts that enables them to take weekend jaunts to the Cape. In their fifties, everything seems perfect for this couple until Carl vanishes for no apparent reason though he left behind a weird note that tells Livi nothing except he insists he is okay.--- Livi feels abandoned by the man who rescued her when she felt forlorn and vanished in 1978 after her previous husband Noah Emerson died trying to stop a hold-up with her name being his last word. Unbeknownst to Livi while she struggles with Carl¿s disappearance reminding her of her buried windmill past, her spouse returns to his hometown to face his family past that he hid from his beloved Livi. Where will these solo journeys to yesteryear lead to for this middle age couple struggling for the first time in two decades alone?--- Stephanie Gertler provides her audience with a deep character study of two individuals happily married for over two decades, but their secrets that they kept from one another finally surface when Carl can no longer ignore his past. The story line contains two plots somewhat rotated in first person narratives as readers follow the respective treks of Carl and Livi as much on a mental plane as in the physical world. Adding to the depth of looking closely at the sandwich generation is the woes of the octogenarian parents as fans will appreciate souls battling windmills successfully when the heart makes room for others as Noah had understood before he tragically died.--- Harriet Klausner

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