Surgeon Trevor Benson never intended to return to New Bern, North Carolina and settle on his grandfather's abandoned property. But an unexpected trauma forces him to settle, at least temporarily, in the small town, amidst the tranquility and astonishing beauty of the family lands. But what he is completely unprepared for is falling in love, almost instantly, with a woman who, like him, is too cautious and carries the scars of the past.
His stay gets even more interesting when he meets Callie, a hostile teenager who takes care of herself. It turns out that she has managed to befriend his grandfather and may shed new light on the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. Until the truth about her comes out and changes everything.
In his quest to uncover Natalie and Callie's secrets, Trevor discovers the true meaning of love and forgiveness…
The Chronicler of the Human Soul Nicholas Sparks is unsurpassed in his ability to tell the extraordinary stories of ordinary people. " Return" is a tender tale of trust and hope. Nicholas Sparks is the author of the bestsellers One Day One Life, Look at Me, Cinnamon Breath, Last Song and many more. Most of his novels have been adapted into film productions starring Hollywood stars.
The house – I use the term quite loosely – was not in good shape and the years had taken their toll. My grandfather built it himself after returning from WWII, and although he could have made it more solid, he clearly didn't have enough talent as a designer. It was a parallelepiped with front and back porches; it had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room and two bathrooms. Over the years, the cedar paneling had faded to a grayish silver, just like my grandfather's hair. The roof was patched, the air came in through the windows, and the kitchen floor was so sagged on one side that if you spilled a liquid, it ran in a rivulet to the door leading to the back porch. I liked to think it helped Grandpa clean up - he lived alone for the last thirty years of his life.
However, the property was special. It spread over twenty-four acres, in which there was an old lean-to barn and shed-that's where Grandpa harvested the honey-and it was dotted with almost every flowering plant known to man, including clumps of clover and wildflowers. From now until the end of the summer, the property would look like a brightly colored ground firework. It was also situated on Bryce's Creek, whose dark, slightly s alty water flowed so slowly that it often reflected the sky like a mirror. Sunsets turned the creek into a symphony of maroons and reds and oranges and yellows as the slowly fading rays pierced the curtain of Spanish moss that spread across the tree branches.
Honeybees love the place my grandfather was devoted to, and I'm pretty sure he loved bees more than people. There were about twenty hives on the property; all his life beekeeping had been his favorite occupation, and the hives were in better condition than the house and the barn. After arriving here, I had checked on them from a distance several times, and although it was still early in the season, I could confirm that the bee colonies were he althy.
The population was growing rapidly, as always in the spring - I could actually hear them humming if I listened - and I had let it do as it pleased. I spent most of my time bringing the house back to life. I cleaned out the cupboards, kept a few jars of honey and threw away the rest – a box of stale biscuits, almost empty jars of peanut butter and jelly and a bag of dried apples. The drawers were stuffed with useless things – expired coupons, half-burnt candles, magnets and pens that didn't write, everything went in the trash. The fridge turned out to be almost empty and strangely clean, with no moldy food or disgusting smells like I expected. I threw out a huge amount of junk from the house – most of the furniture was half a century old, Grandpa had a bit of a hoarding problem – and hired handymen to do the harder work. A crew to renovate one of the bathrooms and a plumber to fix the kitchen faucet leak. The floor was sanded and varnished, I had people replace the back door. It was all cracked and boarded up. Then, when another crew cleaned the place up, I ran wireless internet for the laptop and bought some furniture for the living room and bedroom, as well as a new TV for the living room. The old one had antennae like rabbit ears and was the size of a treasure chest. The local charity refused the donation of Grandpa's furniture despite my argument that it might be an antique rarity, and it ended up in a landfill.
However, the porches were in relatively good shape and I spent most of my mornings and evenings there. Here's how and why I got started with mothballs. Spring in the South isn't all about flowers, honeybees and beautiful sunsets, especially when you live next door to a creek in some wild place. It had been warmer than usual lately and the snakes had begun to wake up from their winter slumber. I spotted a big one on the back porch when I was poking around this morning with a cup of coffee in hand. I freaked out, spilled half the coffee on my shirt and quickly ran back into the house.
I had no idea if the snake was poisonous or even what species it was. I'm not an expert on snakes. But unlike some people - like my grandfather - I didn't want to kill her. I just wanted him to stay away from my house and live somewhere there. I knew that snakes did useful things - they killed mice that I heard running along the walls at night. Their drooling blew my mind, and even though I spent every summer here as a kid, I never got used to living in the country. I've always considered myself more of a city person, and I was until the explosion that blew up not only my whole world, but myself as well. Therefore, the most important thing was to recover, but more about that later in my story.
For now let's get back to the snake. After wetting my shirt and changing it, I vaguely remembered Grandpa using mothballs to keep snakes away. He was convinced that mothballs had magical powers to repel all manner of vermin – bats, mice, bugs and snakes – and bought large quantities. He kept it in the barn, and trusting my grandfather's expertise, I grabbed a box and began scattering the balls liberally around the house-first the back and sides, then the front.
Then again I noticed the girl walking on the road by the house. She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and when I looked up at her, she must have sensed because she looked in my direction. He didn't smile or wave; instead he bowed his head as if looking for a way to ignore my presence.
I shrugged and went back to work, if scattering mothballs can count. For some reason I thought about the caravan park where the girl lived. It was at the end of the road, about a mile from here. Out of curiosity, I had walked there shortly after I arrived. He'd been around since the last time I'd been here, and I wanted to know who my new neighbors were. My first thought when I saw him was that in front of him, Grandpa's estate looked like the Taj Mahal. Six or seven old, battered caravans seemed to have been accidentally dropped on a dusty lot. In the far corner loomed the remains of a burned-out caravan-a black, partially melted hull that had never been hauled away. Laundry spaces hung between the caravans. Skinny chickens pecked between piled-up log cars and all manner of rusting appliances, avoiding only a feral pit bull chained to an old discarded bumper. The dog had huge teeth and barked at me so ferociously that spit flew from his foaming mouth. You're not a good puppy, I thought then. Part of me wondered why anyone would choose to live in such a place, but I knew the answer. Walking home, I felt sorry for the tenants and at the same time scolded myself for being a snob because I knew I was luckier than most of them, at least when it came to money.
– Do you live here? – I heard a voice ask.
I looked up and saw the girl. It stepped back and stood a few meters away, not approaching, but close enough for me to notice the many light freckles on its cheeks, so pale they looked almost transparent. Up her arms I saw some bruises, as if she had bumped into something. She wasn't particularly pretty, and there was something unfinished about her features that made me think again that she was a teenager. Her watchful gaze suggested that she was ready to run if I even took a step towards her.
– Yes, this is where I live – I said with a smile. – But I don't know how long I will stay.
– The old man died. The one who lived here. His name was Karl.
– I know. My grandfather.
– O. – She reached into her back pocket. – He gave me honey.
– This is his style. – I wasn't sure if it was true, but it felt like the right line to say.
“He ate at the Trading Post,” she said. – You were always nice.
Slow Jim's "Trading Post" was one of those tack shops so common in the South that had sprung up long before I was born. My grandfather used to take me there when I visited him. It was the size of a three-car garage, with a covered front porch, and sold everything from gas, milk, and eggs to fishing gear, live bait, and auto parts. There were old-fashioned cash-only gas pumps out front and an outdoor grill that offered hot food. I remember once finding a bag of plastic soldier figures tucked between a packet of marshmallows and a box of fishing hooks. The writing on the shelves and on the walls didn't rhyme or even make sense, but I always thought it was one of the coolest stores around.
– Do you work there?
She nodded then pointed to the box in my hand.
– Why do you put mothballs around the house?
I stared at the box in my hand, realizing I had forgotten I was holding it.
– There was a snake on my porch this morning. I heard mothballs keep them away.
She pursed her lips before taking a step back.
– Well, okay. I just wanted to know if you live here.
– I'm Trevor Benson by the way.
Hearing my name, she gaped at me. He mustered up the courage to ask the obvious.
– What happened to your face?
I knew he meant the thin scar that crosses my face from my hairline to my jawline. The question betrayed her youth. Adults wouldn't normally ask; instead they pretend not to notice it.
– Mortar in Afghanistan. A few years ago.
– O. – She rubbed her nose with the back of her hand. – Did it hurt?
– Oh, she said again. – Well, I think I should go now.
– OK – I said.
She was walking towards the road again when she suddenly turned around.
– It won't work, he shouted.
– With the mothballs. Snakes are not touched by mothballs.
– How do you know?
– Everyone knows it.
Tell my grandfather, I thought.
– Then what should I do? If I don't want snakes on my porch?
She seemed to be considering her answer.
– Maybe you should live in a place where there are no snakes.
I gasped. She was weird for sure, but I realized that it was the first time I'd laughed since I'd moved here-maybe my first laugh in months.
– It was nice to meet you. – I watched her walk away and was surprised when she slowly turned around in a pirouette.
– I'm Callie! – shouted.
– Nice to meet you Callie.
When she finally disappeared from my view, blocked by the azaleas, I wondered if I should continue scattering mothballs. I had no idea if she was right or wrong, but in the end I decided to call it quits. I was in the mood for lemonade and wanted to sit on the back porch and relax, if only because my psychiatrist had recommended that I take time off while I still had it.
He said it would help me keep the darkness away.
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