BY NICHOLAS SPARKS Between mouthfuls, I studied the curve of her jawline and the way the road, rocks and gravel crunching beneath our feet.

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The WeddingBY NICHOLAS SPARKSPrologueIs it possible, I wonder, for a man to truly change? Or docharacter and habitform the immovable boundaries of our lives?It is mid-October 2003, and I ponder these questions as Iwatch a moth flailwildly against the porch light. I™m alone outside. Jane,my wife, is sleepingupstairs and she didn™t stir when I slipped out of bed. Itis late; midnight hascome and gone, and there™s a crispness in the air thatholds the promise of anearly winter. I™m wearing a heavy cotton robe, and thoughI imagined it would bethick enough to keep the chill at bay, I notice that myhands are tremblingbefore I bury them in my pockets.Above me, the stars are specks of silver paint on acharcoal canvas. I see Orionand the Pleiades, Ursa Major and Corona Borealis, andthink I should be inspiredby the realization that I™m not only looking at the stars,but staring into thepast as well. Constellations shine with light that wasemitted aeons ago, and Iwait for something to come to me, words that a poet mightuse to illuminatelife™s mysteries. But there is nothing.This doesn™t surprise me. I™ve never considered myself asentimental man, and ifyou asked my wife, I™m sure she would agree. I do not losemyself in films orplays, I™ve never been a dreamer, and if I aspire to anyform of mastery at all,it is one defined by rules of the Internal Revenue Serviceand codified by law.For the most part, my days and years as an estate lawyerhave been spent in thecompany of those preparing for their own deaths, and I

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suppose that some mightsay that my life is less meaningful because of this. Buteven if they™re right,what can I do? I make no excuses for myself, nor have Iever, and by the end ofmy story, I hope you™ll view this quirk of my characterwith a forgiving eye.Please don™t misunderstand. I may not be sentimental, butI™m not completelywithout emotion, and there are moments when I™m struck bya deep sense ofwonder. It is usually simple things that I find strangelymoving: standing amongthe giant sequoias in the Sierra Nevadas, for instance, orwatching ocean wavesas they crash together off Cape Hatteras, sending saltyplumes into the sky.Last week, I felt my throat tighten when I watched a youngboy reach for hisfather™s hand as they strolled down the sidewalk. Thereare other things, too: Ican sometimes lose track of time when staring at a skyfilled with wind-whippedclouds, and when I hear thunder rumbling, I always drawnear the window to watchfor lightning. When the next brilliant flash illuminatesthe sky, I often findmyself filled with longing, though I™m at a loss to tellyou what it is that Ifeel my life is missing.My name is Wilson Lewis, and this is the story of awedding. It is also thestory of my marriage, but despite the thirty years thatJane and I have spenttogether, I suppose I should begin by admitting thatothers know far more aboutmarriage than I. A man can learn nothing by asking myadvice. In the course ofmy marriage, I™ve been selfish and stubborn and asignorant as a goldfish, andit pains me to realize this about myself. Yet, lookingback, I believe that ifI™ve done one thing right, it has been to love my wifethroughout our years

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together. While this may strike some as a feat not worthmentioning, you shouldknow that there was a time when I was certain that my wifedidn™t feel the sameway about me.Of course, all marriages go through ups and downs, and Ibelieve this is thenatural consequence of couples that choose to staytogether over the long haul.Between us, my wife and I have lived through the deaths ofboth of my parentsand one of hers, and the illness of her father. We™vemoved four times, andthough I™ve been successful in my profession, manysacrifices were made in orderto secure this position. We have three children, and whileneither of us wouldtrade the experience of parenthood for the riches ofTutankhamen, the sleeplessnights and frequent trips to the hospital when they wereinfants left both of usexhausted and often overwhelmed. It goes without sayingthat their teenage yearswere an experience I would rather not relive.All of those events create their own stresses, and whentwo people livetogether, the stress flows both ways. This, I™ve come tobelieve, is both theblessing and the curse of marriage. It™s a blessingbecause there™s an outletfor the everyday strains of life; it™s a curse because theoutlet is someone youcare deeply about.Why do I mention this? Because I want to underscore thatthroughout all theseevents, I never doubted my feelings for my wife. Sure,there were days when weavoided eye contact at the breakfast table, but still Inever doubted us. Itwould be dishonest to say that I haven™t wondered whatwould have happened had Imarried someone else, but in all the years we spenttogether, I never onceregretted the fact that I had chosen her and that she had

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chosen me as well. Ithought our relationship was settled, but in the end, Irealized that I waswrong. I learned that a little more than a yearagoŠfourteen months, to beexactŠand it was that realization, more than anything,that set in motion allthat was to come.What happened then, you wonder?Given my age, a person might suppose that it was someincident inspired by amidlife crisis. A sudden desire to change my life,perhaps, or maybe a crime ofthe heart. But it was neither of those things. No, my sinwas a small one in thegrand scheme of things, an incident that under differentcircumstances mighthave been the subject of a humorous anecdote in lateryears. But it hurt her, ithurt us, and thus it is here where I must begin my story.It was August 23, 2002, and what I did was this: I roseand ate breakfast, thenspent the day at the office, as is my custom. The eventsof my workday played norole in what came after; to be honest, I can™t rememberanything about it otherthan to recall that it was nothing extraordinary. Iarrived home at my regularhour and was pleasantly surprised to see Jane preparing myfavorite meal in thekitchen. When she turned to greet me, I thought I saw hereyes flicker downward,looking to see if I was holding something other than mybriefcase, but I wasempty-handed. An hour later we ate dinner together, andafterward, as Jane begancollecting the dishes from the table, I retrieved a fewlegal documents from mybriefcase that I wished to review. Sitting in my office, Iwas perusing thefirst page when I noticed Jane standing in the doorway.She was drying her handson a dish towel, and her face registered a disappointmentthat I had learned to

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recognize over the years, if not fully understand.fiIs there anything you want to say?fl she asked after amoment.I hesitated, aware there was more to her question than itsinnocence implied. Ithought perhaps that she was referring to a new hairstyle,but I lookedcarefully and her hair seemed no different from usual. I™dtried over the yearsto notice such things. Still, I was at a loss, and as westood before eachother, I knew I had to offer something.fiHow was your day?fl I finally asked.She gave a strange half smile in response and turned away.I know now what she was looking for, of course, but at thetime, I shrugged itoff and went back to work, chalking it up as anotherexample of themysteriousness of women.Later that evening, I™d crawled into bed and was makingmyself comfortable whenI heard Jane draw a single, rapid breath. She was lying onher side with herback toward me, and when I noticed that her shoulders weretrembling, itsuddenly struck me that she was crying. Baffled, Iexpected her to tell me whathad upset her so, but instead of speaking, she offeredanother set of raspyinhales, as if trying to breathe through her own tears. Mythroat tightenedinstinctively, and I found myself growing frightened. Itried not to be scared;tried not to think that something bad had happened to herfather or to the kids,or that she had been given terrible news by her doctor. Itried not to thinkthat there might be a problem I couldn™t solve, and Iplaced my hand on her backin the hope that I could somehow comfort her.fiWhat™s wrong?fl I asked.It was a moment before she answered. I heard her sigh asshe pulled the coversup to her shoulders.

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fiHappy anniversary,fl she whispered.Twenty-nine years, I remembered too late, and in thecorner of the room, Ispotted the gifts she™d bought me, neatly wrapped andperched on the chest ofdrawers.Quite simply, I had forgotten.I make no excuses for this, nor would I even if I could.What would be thepoint? I apologized, of course, then apologized again thefollowing morning; andlater in the evening, when she opened the perfume I™dselected carefully withthe help of a young lady at Belk™s, she smiled and thankedme and patted my leg.Sitting beside her on the couch, I knew I loved her thenas much as I did theday we were married. But in looking at her, noticingperhaps for the first timethe distracted way she glanced off to the side and theunmistakably sad tilt ofher headŠI suddenly realized that I wasn™t quite surewhether she still lovedme.Chapter OneIt™s heartbreaking to think that your wife may not loveyou, and that night,after Jane had carried the perfume up to our bedroom, Isat on the couch forhours, wondering how this situation had come to pass. Atfirst, I wanted tobelieve that Jane was simply reacting emotionally and thatI was reading farmore into the incident than it deserved. Yet the more Ithought about it, themore I sensed not only her displeasure in an absentmindedspouse, but the tracesof an older melancholyŠas if my lapse were simply thefinal blow in a long, longseries of careless missteps.Had the marriage turned out to be a disappointment forJane? Though I didn™twant to think so, her expression had answered otherwise,

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fifty-six, I™m three yearsolder than my wife.Despite my feelings for Jane, I sometimes think we™re anunlikely pair to havespent a life together. We™re different in almost everyway, and though oppositescan and do attract, I™ve always felt that I made thebetter choice on ourwedding day. Jane is, after all, the kind of person Ialways wished to be. WhileI tend toward stoicism and logic, Jane is outgoing andkind, with a naturalempathy that endears her to others. She laughs easily andhas a wide circle offriends. Over the years, I™ve come to realize that most ofmy friends are, infact, the husbands of my wife™s friends, but I believethis is common for mostmarried couples our age. Yet I™m fortunate in that Janehas always seemed tochoose our friends with me in mind, and I™m appreciativethat there™s alwayssomeone for me to visit with at a dinner party. Had shenot come into my life, Isometimes think that I would have led the life of a monk.There™s more, too: I™m charmed by the fact that Jane hasalways displayed heremotions with childlike ease. When she™s sad she cries;when she™s happy shelaughs; and she enjoys nothing more than to be surprisedwith a wonderfulgesture. In those moments, there™s an ageless innocenceabout her, and though asurprise by definition is unexpected, for Jane, thememories of a surprise canarouse the same excited feelings for years afterward.Sometimes when she™sdaydreaming, I™ll ask her what she™s thinking about andshe™ll suddenly beginspeaking in giddy tones about something I™ve longforgotten. This, I must say,has never ceased to amaze me.While Jane has been blessed with the most tender ofhearts, in many ways she™s

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stronger than I am. Her values and beliefs, like those ofmost southern women,are grounded by God and family; she views the worldthrough a prism of black andwhite, right and wrong. For Jane, hard decisions arereached instinctivelyŠandare almost always correctŠwhile I, on the other hand, findmyself weighingendless options and frequently second-guessing myself. Andunlike me, my wife isseldom self-conscious. This lack of concern about otherpeople™s perceptionsrequires a confidence that I™ve always found elusive, andabove all else, I envythis about her.I suppose that some of our differences stem from ourrespective upbringings.While Jane was raised in a small town with three siblingsand parents who adoredher, I was raised in a town house in Washington, D.C., asthe only child ofgovernment lawyers, and my parents were seldom home beforeseven o™clock in theevening. As a result, I spent much of my free time alone,and to this day, I™mmost comfortable in the privacy of my den.As I™ve already mentioned, we have three children, andthough I love themdearly, they are for the most part the products of mywife. She bore them andraised them, and they are most comfortable with her. WhileI sometimes regretthat I didn™t spend as much time with them as I shouldhave, I™m comforted bythe thought that Jane more than made up for my absences.Our children, it seems,have turned out well despite me. They™re grown now andliving on their own, butwe consider ourselves fortunate that only one has movedout of state. Our twodaughters still visit us frequently, and my wife iscareful to have theirfavorite foods in the refrigerator in case they™re hungry,which they never seem

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to be. When they come, they talk with Jane for hours.At twenty-seven, Anna is the oldest. With black hair anddark eyes, her looksreflected her saturnine personality growing up. She was abrooder who spent herteenage years locked in her room, listening to gloomymusic and writing in adiary. She was a stranger to me back then; days might passbefore she would saya single word in my presence, and I was at a loss tounderstand what I mighthave done to provoke this. Everything I said seemed toelicit only sighs orshakes of her head, and if I asked if anything wasbothering her, she wouldstare at me as if the question were incomprehensible. Mywife seemed to findnothing unusual in this, dismissing it as a phase typicalof young girls, butthen again, Anna still talked to her. Sometimes I™d passby Anna™s room and hearAnna and Jane whispering to each other; but if they heardme outside the door,the whispering would stop. Later, when I would ask Janewhat they™d beendiscussing, she™d shrug and wave a hand mysteriously, asif their only goal wereto keep me in the dark.Yet because she was my firstborn, Anna has always been myfavorite. This isn™tan admission I would make to anyone, but I think she knowsit as well, andlately I™ve come to believe that even in her silent years,she was fonder of methan I realized. I can still remember times when I™d beperusing trusts or willsin my den, and she™d slip through the door. She™d pacearound the room, scanningthe bookshelves and reaching for various items, but if Iaddressed her, she™dslip back out as quietly as she™d come in. Over time, Ilearned not to sayanything, and she™d sometimes linger in the office for anhour, watching me as I

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scribbled on yellow legal tablets. If I glanced towardher, she™d smilecomplicitly, enjoying this game of ours. I have no moreunderstanding of it nowthan I did back then, but it™s ingrained in my memory asfew images are.Currently, Anna is working for the Raleigh News andObserver, but I think shehas dreams of becoming a novelist. In college she majoredin creative writing,and the stories she wrote were as dark as her personality.I recall reading onein which a young girl becomes a prostitute to care for hersick father, a manwho™d once molested her. When I set the pages down, Iwondered what I wassupposed to make of such a thing.She is also madly in love. Anna, always careful anddeliberate in her choices,was highly selective when it came to men, and thankfullyKeith has always struckme as someone who treats her well. He intends to be anorthopedist and carrieshimself with a confidence that comes only to those who™vefaced few setbacks inlife. I learned through Jane that for their first dateKeith took Anna kiteflying on the beach near Fort Macon. Later that week, whenAnna brought him bythe house, Keith came dressed in a sports coat, freshlyshowered and smellingfaintly of cologne. As we shook hands, he held my gaze andimpressed me bysaying, fiIt™s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lewis.flJoseph, our second-born, is a year younger than Anna. He™salways called mefiPop,fl though no one else in our family has ever used thatterm, and again, wehave little in common. He™s taller and thinner than I,wears jeans to mostsocial functions, and when he visits at Thanksgiving orChristmas, he eats onlyvegetables. While he was growing up, I thought him quiet,yet his reticence,

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