Why had this happened? Why, of all the children, was Kyle the one?
Back in the car after stopping for gas, Denise hit the highway again,
staying ahead of the storm. For the next twenty minutes rain fell
steadily but not ominously, and she watched the wipers push the water
back and forth while she made her way back to Edenton, North Carolina.
Her Diet Coke sat between the emergency brake and the driver's seat, and
though she knew it wasn't good for her, she finished the last of it and
immediately wished she'd bought another. The extra caffeine, she hoped,
would keep her alert and focused on the drive, instead of on Kyle. But
Kyle was always there.
Kyle. What could she say? He'd once been part of her, she'd heard his
heart beating at twelve weeks, she'd felt his movements within her the
last five months of her pregnancy. After his birth, while still in the
delivery room, she took one look at him and couldn't believe there was
anything more beautiful in the world. That feeling hadn't changed,
although she wasn't in any way a perfect mother. These days she simply
did the best job she could, accepting the good with the bad, looking for
joys in the little things. With Kyle, they were sometimes hard to find.
She'd done her best to be patient with him over the last four years, but
it hadn't always been easy. Once, while he was still a toddler, she'd
momentarily placed her hand over his mouth to quiet him, but he'd been
screaming for over five hours after staying awake all night, and tired
parents everywhere might find this a forgivable offense. After that,
though, she'd done her best to keep her emotions in check. When she felt
her frustration rising, she slowly counted to ten before doing anything;
when that didn't work, she left the room to collect herself. Usually it
helped, but this was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing
because she knew that patience was necessary to help him; it was a curse
because it made her question her own abilities as a parent.
Kyle had been born four years to the day after her mother had died of a
brain aneurysm, and though not usually given to believing in signs,
Denise could hardly regard that as a coincidence. Kyle, she felt sure,
was a gift from God. Kyle, she knew, had been sent to replace her
family. Other than him, she was alone in the world. Her father had died
when she was four, she had no siblings, her grandparents on both sides
had passed away. Kyle immediately became the sole recipient of the love
she had to offer. But fate is strange, fate is unpredictable. Though she
showered Kyle with attention, it somehow hadn't been enough. Now she led
a life she hadn't anticipated, a life where Kyle's daily progression was
carefully logged in a notebook. Now she led a life completely dedicated
to her son. Kyle, of course, didn't complain about the things they did
every day. Kyle, unlike other children, never complained about anything.
She glanced in the rearview mirror.
"What are you thinking about, sweetie?"
Kyle was watching the rain as it blew against the windows, his head
turned sideways. His blanket was in his lap. He hadn't said anything
since he'd been in the car, and he turned at the sound of her voice.
She waited for his response. But there was nothing.
Denise Holton lived in a house that had once been owned by her
grandparents. After their deaths it had become her mother's, then
eventually it had passed on to her. It wasn't much-a small ramshackle
building set on three acres, built in the 1920s. The two bedrooms and
the living room weren't too bad, but the kitchen was in dire need of
modern appliances and the bathroom didn't have a shower. At both the
front and back of the house the porches were sagging, and without the
portable fan she sometimes felt as if she would bake to death, but
because she could live there rent-free, it was exactly what she needed.
It had been her home for the past three months.
Staying in Atlanta, the place she'd grown up, would have been
impossible. Once Kyle was born, she'd used the money her mother had left
her to stay at home with him. At the time, she considered it a temporary
leave of absence. Once he was a little older, she had planned to go back
to teaching. The money, she knew, would run out eventually, and she had
to earn a living. Besides, teaching was something she'd loved. She'd
missed her students and fellow teachers after her first week away. Now,
years later, she was still at home with Kyle and the world of teaching
in a school was nothing but a vague and distant memory, something more
akin to a dream than a reality. She couldn't remember a single lesson
plan or the names of the students she had taught. If she didn't know
better, she would have sworn that she'd never done it at all.
Youth offers the promise of happiness, but life offers the realities of
grief. Her father, her mother, her grandparents-all gone before she
turned twenty-one. At that point in her life she'd been to five
different funeral homes yet legally couldn't enter a bar to wash the
sorrow away. She'd suffered more than her fair share of challenges, but
God, it seemed, couldn't stop at just that. Like Job's struggles, hers
continued to go on. "Middle-class lifestyle?" Not anymore.
"Friends you've grown up with?" You must leave them behind. "A
job to enjoy?" It is too much to ask. And Kyle, the sweet,
wonderful boy for whom all this was done-in many ways he was still a
mystery to her.
Instead of teaching she worked the evening shift at a diner called
Eights, a busy hangout on the outskirts of Edenton. The owner there, Ray
Toler, was a sixty-something black man who'd run the place for thirty
years. He and his wife had raised six kids, all of whom went to college.
Copies of their diplomas hung along the back wall, and everyone who ate
there knew about them. Ray made sure of that. He also liked to talk
about Denise. She was the only one, he liked to say, who'd ever handed
him a resume when interviewing for the job.
Ray was a man who understood poverty, a man who understood kindness, a
man who understood how hard it was for single mothers. "In the back of
the building, there's a small room," he'd said when he hired her. "You
can bring your son with you, as long as he doesn't get in the way."
Tears formed in her eyes when he showed it to her. There were two cots,
a night-light, a place where Kyle would be safe. The next evening Kyle
went to bed in that small room as soon as she started on her shift;
hours later she loaded him in the car and took him back home. Since then
that routine hadn't changed.
She worked four nights a week, five hours a shift, earning barely enough
to get by. She'd sold her Honda for an old but reliable Datsun two years
ago, pocketing the difference. That money, along with everything else
from her mother, had long since been spent. She'd become a master of
budgeting, a master of cutting corners. She hadn't bought new clothes
for herself since the Christmas before last; though her furniture was
decent, they were remnants from another life. She didn't subscribe to
magazines, she didn't have cable television, her stereo was an old boom
box from college. The last movie she'd seen on the silver screen was
Schindler's List. She seldom made long-distance phone calls to
her friends. She had $238 in the bank. Her car was nineteen years old,
with enough miles on the engine to have circled the world five times.
None of those things mattered, though. Only Kyle was important.
But never once had he told her that he loved her.
On those evenings she didn't work at the diner, Denise usually sat in
the rocking chair on the porch out back, a book across her lap. She
enjoyed reading outside, where the rise and fall of chirping crickets
was somehow soothing in its monotony. Her home was surrounded by oak and
cypress and mockernut hickory trees, all draped heavily in Spanish moss.
Sometimes, when the moonlight slanted through them just right, shadows
that looked like exotic animals splashed across the gravel walkway.
In Atlanta she used to read for pleasure. Her tastes ran the gamut from
Steinbeck and Hemingway to Grisham and King. Though those types of books
were available at the local library, she never checked them out anymore.
Instead she used the computers near the reading room, which had free
access to the Internet. She searched through clinical studies sponsored
by major universities, printing the documents whenever she found
something relevant. The files she kept had grown to nearly three inches
On the floor beside her chair she had an assortment of psychological
textbooks as well. Expensive, they'd made serious dents in her budget.
Yet the hope was always there, and after ordering them, she waited
anxiously for them to arrive. This time, she liked to think, she would
find something that helped.
Once they came, she would sit for hours, studying the information. With
the lamp a steady blaze behind her, she perused the information, things
she'd usually read before. Still, she didn't rush. Occasionally she took
notes, other times she simply folded the page and highlighted the
information. An hour would pass, maybe two, before she'd finally close
the book, finished for the night. She'd stand, shaking the stiffness
from her joints. After bringing the books to her small desk in the
living room, she would check on Kyle, then head back outside.
The gravel walkway led to a path through the trees, eventually to a
broken fence that lined her property. She and Kyle would wander that way
during the day, she walked it alone at night. Strange noises would
filter from everywhere: from above came the screech of an owl; over
there, a rustle through the underbrush; off to the side, a skitter along
a branch. Coastal breezes moved the leaves, a sound similar to that of
the ocean; moonlight drifted in and out. But the path was straight, she
knew it well. Past the fence, the forest pressed in around her. More
sounds, less light, but still she moved forward. Eventually the darkness
became almost stifling. By then she could hear the water; the Chowan
River was close. Another grove of trees, a quick turn to the right, and
all of a sudden it was as if the world had unfolded itself before her.
The river, wide and slow moving, was finally visible. Powerful, eternal,
as black as time. She would cross her arms and gaze at it, taking it in,
letting the calm it inspired wash over her. She would stay a few
minutes, seldom longer, since Kyle was still in the house.
Then she'd sigh and turn from the river, knowing it was time to go.
Excerpted from "The Rescue" by Nicholas Sparks. Copyright © 2001 by Nicholas Sparks. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.