Gabby had saved these cards in a tiny bundle held together by a rubber band. They were a kind of history of Travis and Gabby’s life together, described in tiny

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Nicholas Sparks The Choice For the Lewis family: Bob, Debbie, Cody, and Cole. My family. Acknowledgments hard for me to write acknowledgments for the simple reason that my life as an author has been blessed with a kind of professional stability that strikes me as somewhat rare in this day and age. When I think back to my earlier novels and reread the acknowl edgments in, say, Message in a Bottle or The Rescue, I see names of people with whom I still work today. Not only have I film agent, entertainment attor ney, cover designer, and salespeople, and one producer has been something of a broken record when it comes to thanking these people. Nonetheless, each and every one of them deserves my gratitude. Of course, I have to begin – as always – and have shared quite a life together: five children, eight dogs (at various times), six different residences in t hree different states, three very sad funerals of various members of my family, twelve novels and of it with anyone else. My children – Miles, Ryan, La ndon, Lexie, and Savannah – are growing up, slowly but surely, and while I

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Theresa Park, my agent at Park Literary Group, is not only one of my closest friends, but a fantastic one at that. Intelli Jamie Raab, my editor at Grand Central Publishing, also deserves my gratitude for all she does. She puts the pencil to the manuscr Denise DiNovi, the fabulous producer of A Walk to Remember, Message in a B ottle, and Nights in Rodanthe, is my best friend in Hollywood, and I look forward to those times on the film set, simply so we have a chance to visit. David Young, the new CEO of Grand Central Publishing (well, not exactly new anymore, I suppose), has no t only become a friend, but one who deserves my heartfelt thanks, if only because I have the nasty tendency to deliver my manuscripts at the very last possible moment. Sorry about that. Both Jennifer Romanello and Edna Farley are publicists and friends, since The Notebook was published in 1996. Thanks for all that you do! Harvey – Jane Kowal and Sona Vogel, who do the copy – editing, always deserve my thanks for catching els. adaptations. I appreciate all that both of you do. turns out. Thanks again to Flag for another wonderful cover. Harris, and Mark Johnson. Prologue February 2007 Stories are as unique as the people who tell them, and the best stories are those in which the ending is ld. Travis remembered the way his dad would sit on the bed beside him, his mouth curling into a smile as Travis begged for a story.

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Usually, his dad would around Travis and in a pitch – perfect voice would launch into a story that often kept Travis awake long after his dad had turned out the lights. There was always adventure and danger and excitement and journeys that took place in and around the small coastal town of Beaufort, North Carolina, the place Travis Parker grew up in and still called home. Strangely, most of them included bears. Grizzly bears, brown bears, Kodiak bears habitat. He focused on hair – raising chase scenes through the sandy lowlands, giving Travis nightmares about crazed polar bears on Shackleford Banks until he was well into middle school. Yet no matter how To Travis, those days seemed like the innocent vestiges of another era. He was forty – three now, and as he parked his car in the parking lot of C arteret General Hospital, where his wife had worked for the past had spoken, make amends. He was under no illusions that the flowers would make things better between them, but ty about what had happened, but married friends had assured him that guilt was the cornerstone of any good marriage. It meant that a conscience was at work, values were held in high esteem, and reasons to feel guilty were best avoided whenever possible. Hi s friends sometimes admitted their failures in this particular area, and Travis to make him feel better, to reassure him that no one was perfect, that h were still sleeping beside them e very night; none of them had ever been separated for three months, none of them wondered whether their marriage would ever return to what it once had been. As he crossed the parking lot, he thought about both of his daughters, his job, his wife. At the m oment, none of them gave him much comfort. He felt as though he were failing in practically every area of his this way. There had been a long period of time during which he remembered being very happy. But things change. People change. Change was one of the inevitable laws of nature, exacting its toll on s omething as simple as rising from the bed seem almost laborious. Shaking his head, he approached the door of the hospital, picturing himself as the child he had been, the kind of story that should have ended on a happy note. As he reached for the door, he felt the familiar rush of memory and regret.

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Only later, after he let the memories overtake him once again, would he allow himself to wonder what would happen next. Part One One May 1996 – faced and grunting, continued to push the spa toward the recently cut square at the far edge of the deck. His feet slipped, and he could feel sweat pouring from h is forehead into the corners of his eyes, making them sting. It was hot, way too hot for panting, his tongue hanging out. Travis Parker, who was pushi – which must have weighed four hundred pounds – moved another couple of inches. At this rate, the spa should be in p lace, oh . . . sometime next week. was a team of mules. His back was killing him. For a moment, he visualized his ears blowing off the sides of his he ad from the strain, shooting in both directions like the bottle rockets he and Travis used to launch as kids. – a purebred boxer – barked as if in agreement, and Travis smiled, looking way too pleased with himsel f. Matt scowled, trying to catch his breath. He hated that look. Well, not always. Most of the time he Matt reached for the bandanna in his rear pocket. It was soaked with sweat, which had of course done wonders for the seat of his pants. He wiped his face and wrung the bandanna with a quick twist. Sweat dribbled from it like a leaky faucet onto the top o f his shoe. He stared at it almost hypnotically, before

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feeling it soak through the light mesh fabric, giving his toes a nice, slimy feel. Oh, that was just dandy, – oh yeah, installing this thing should – – assuming the y Matt scowled again. It was Saturday – Saturday! His day of recreation and relaxation, his chance to escape from the grindstone, the break he earned after five days at the bank, the kind of day he needed. He was a loan officer, for G watching the Braves play the Dodgers! He could have been golfing! He could have gone to the beach! He almost every Saturday, instead of waking at the crack of dawn and performing manual labor for eight straight hours beneath a scalding southern sun. . . . He paused. Who was he kidding? Had he not been here, he would have definitely spent the day with Li eem to hear him. His hands were already on the box, and he was getting into position. serious, double – dose – of – Advil pain in the morning. Un

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a week or play racquetball or go running or go scuba diving in Aruba or surfing in Bali or skiing in Vail or sun was beginning its descent, streams of gold reflecting off the bay. In the distance, a heron broke from the trees and gracefully skimmed the surface, dispersing the light. Joe and Megan, along with Laird and Joe glanced at Matt, who lay flattened in a lawn chair off to the side of the deck, a cold rag over his head. Even his belly – Matt had always been on the pudgy side – seemed to sag. Joe grinned. Laird and the three of them had gone to school together since kindergarten. Matt slowly shifted his gaze to Travis. He really hated his f riend sometimes. Megan was chatting with Allison at the table on the far end of the deck, and Joe glanced briefly in her

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Travis looked arou nd the table, pleased that his childhood friends not only had become good husbands – two, he knew that share of accidents and falls, some of divorced, foun d themselves addicted to drugs or booze, or simply moved away from this tiny town, their faces already blurring in his memory. What were the odds that the four of them – another since kindergarten – would find themselves in their early thirties still spending weekends together? Pretty small, he thought. But somehow, after hanging together through all the adolescent acne and girl troubles and pressure from their parents, then heading off to four different colleges with differing career goals, the y had each, one by one, moved back here to Beaufort. They were more like family than friends, right down to coded expressions and shared experiences that no outsiders could ever fully understand. om different backgrounds and different parts of the state, but marriage, motherhood, and the endless gossip of small – town America were more than enough to keep them chatting regularly on the phone and bonding like long – lost sisters. Laird had been the firs t to marry – he and Allison had tied the knot the summer after they graduated from Wake Forest; Joe and Megan walked the aisle a year later, after falling in love during their senior year at North and they were married a year after that. Travis had been the best man in all three weddings. Some things had changed in the past few years, of course, largely because of the new additions to the moment to go skiing in Colorado as he used to, and Matt had all but given up trying to keep up with him on most things. But that was okay. They were all still available enough, and among the three of them – an d with enough planning – he was still able to make the most of his weekends. is know he was in trouble. All six of them, he thought, took a bit too much interest in his love life. The trouble with married people was that they seemed to believe that everyone they knew should get married. Every woman Travis dated was thus subjected t o subtle, though unyielding, evaluation, especially by Megan. She was usually the ringleader at moments like these, always trying to figure out what made Travis tick when it came to women. And Travis, of course, loved nothing more than to push her buttons in return.

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flattery was his best defense at moments like these, especially since it was usually sincere. Megan, Liz, and Allison were terrific. All heart and loyalt y and generous common sense. c Joe and Laird lifted their bottles in unison; the others shook their heads. Travis started for the cooler before hesitating near the sl iding glass door of his house. He darted inside and changed the CD, listening to the strains of new music filtering out over the yard as he brought the beers back to the table. By then, Megan, Allison, and Liz were already chatting about Gwen, the woman wh o did their hair. Gwen always Travis nursed his beer silently, looking out over the water.

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– gr ade teacher. Or even Mr. Green from the game Clue. But you never hear of someone named Mr. Orange or When little Josie ha d her second temper tantrum in a fifteen – minute span – it was a little before nine – Allison scooped her into her arms and gave Laird the look, the one that said it was time to go so they d up from the table, Megan glanced at Joe, Liz nodded at Matt, and Travis knew the evening was at an end. Parents might believe themselves to be the bosses, but in the end it was the kids who made the rules. He supposed he could have tried to talk one of his friends into staying, and might even have gotten one to agree, but he had long since grown accustomed to the fact that his friends lived their lives by a different schedule from his. Besides, he had a sneaking suspicion that Stephanie, his younger sis ter, drive and in the mood to talk, and their parents w ould already be in bed. Megan, Joe, and Liz rose and started to clean up the table, but Travis waved them off. A few minutes later, two SUVs and a minivan were being loaded with children. Travis stood on the front porch and waved as they pulled out of the driveway. When they were gone, Travis wandered back to the stereo, sorted through the CDs again, and chose Tattoo You by the Rolling Stones, then cranked up the volume. He pulled at another beer on his way back to his chair, threw his feet up on the table, and leaned back. Moby sat beside him. Moby turned away. Unless Travis said the words walk or ball or go for a ride or come get a bone, Moby

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