Three weeks with my brot.., p.1
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       Three Weeks With My Brother, p.1

           Nicholas Sparks
 
Three Weeks With My Brother


  Copyright (c) 2004 by Nicholas Sparks and Michael Sparks

  All rights reserved.

  Warner Books

  Hachette Book Group USA

  237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017

  Visit our Web site at HachetteBookGroupUSA.com.

  First eBook Edition: April 2004

  ISBN: 978-0-7595-1033-3

  Contents

  Also by Nicholas Sparks

  Dedication

  Epigraph

  Acknowledgments

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Epilogue

  Three Weeks with

  My Brother

  ALSO BY NICHOLAS SPARKS

  The Notebook

  Message in a Bottle

  A Walk to Remember

  The Rescue

  A Bend in the Road

  Nights in Rodanthe

  The Guardian

  The Wedding

  For our family, with love

  A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in the time of need.

  Proverbs 17:17

  Acknowledgments

  There are always so many people to thank when it comes to writing a book, and as always, the names are much the same.

  First, we have to thank our wives, Cathy and Christine, without whom this book never would have been possible.

  And our children--Miles, Ryan, Landon, Lexie, and Savannah (Nicholas's) and Alli and Peyton (Micah's). Life without them is impossible to imagine.

  Also no less gratitude goes to Theresa Park of Sanford Greenburger and Jamie Raab of Warner Books, our agent and editor respectively. It's been a dream working with them.

  Larry Kirshbaum and Maureen Egen, the CEO and president of Warner Books, were kind enough to believe in the project, and deserve our thanks as well.

  Jennifer Romanello, Edna Farley, Emi Battaglia, Julie Barer, Shannon O'Keefe, Peter McGuigan, Scott Schwimer, Howie Sanders, Richard Green, Flag, Denise DiNovi, Lynn Harris, Mark Johnson, Courtenay Valenti, and all the rest deserve our thanks as well for various roles they played in the project.

  And finally, thanks to the staff and crew of TCS, as well as our fellow traveling companions, including the wonderful Bob and Kate Devlin. It was wonderful traveling with all of you.

  Prologue

  This book came about because of a brochure I received in the mail in the spring of 2002.

  It was a typical day in the Sparks household. I'd spent a good part of the morning and early afternoon working on my novel Nights in Rodanthe, but it hadn't gone well and I was struggling to put the day behind me. I hadn't written as much as I'd intended nor did I have any idea what I would write the following day, so I wasn't in the best of moods when I finally turned off the computer and called it quits for the afternoon.

  It isn't easy living with an author. I know this because my wife has informed me of this fact, and she did so again that day. To be honest, it's not the most pleasant thing to hear, and while it would be easy to get defensive, I've come to understand that arguing with her about it has never solved anything. So instead of denying it, I've learned to take her hands, look her in the eyes, and respond with those three magic words that every woman wants to hear:

  "You're right, sweetheart."

  Some people believe that because I've been relatively successful as an author, writing must come effortlessly to me. Many people imagine that I "jot down ideas as they come to me" for a few hours each day, then spend the rest of my time relaxing by the pool with my wife while we discuss our next exotic vacation.

  In reality, our lives aren't much different from that of your average middle-class family. We don't have a staff of servants or travel extensively, and while we do have a pool in the backyard surrounded by pool chairs, I can't remember a time that the chairs have ever been used, simply because neither my wife nor I have much time during the day to sit around doing nothing. For me, the reason is my work. For my wife, the reason is family. Or more specifically, kids.

  We have five children, you see. Not a big number if we were pioneers, but these days it's enough to raise a few eyebrows. Last year, when my wife and I were on a trip, we happened to strike up a conversation with another young couple. One topic led to another, and finally the subject of kids came up. That couple had two kids and mentioned their names; my wife rattled off the names of ours.

  For a moment, the conversation ground to a halt while the other woman tried to figure out whether she'd heard us correctly.

  "You have five kids?" the woman finally asked.

  "Yes."

  She laid a sympathetic hand on my wife's shoulder.

  "Are you insane?"

  Our sons are twelve, ten, and four; our twin daughters are coming up on three, and while there's a lot that I don't know about the world, I do know that kids have a funny way of helping you keep things in perspective. The older ones know that I write novels for a living, though I sometimes doubt that either of them understands what it means to create a work of fiction. For instance, when my ten-year-old was asked during a class presentation what his father did for a living, he puffed his chest out and proudly declared, "My daddy plays on the computer all day!" My oldest son, on the other hand, often tells me--with utter solemnity--that, "Writing is easy. It's just the typing that's hard."

  I work out of the house as many authors do, but that's where the resemblance ends. My office isn't some upstairs, out-of-the-way sanctuary; instead, the door opens directly onto the living room. While I've read that some authors must have a quiet house in order to concentrate, I'm fortunate that I've never needed silence to work. It's a good thing, I suppose, or I never would have ever written at all. Our house, you have to understand, is a whirlwind of activity literally from the moment my wife and I get out of bed until the moment we collapse back into it at the end of the day. Spending the day at our home is enough to exhaust just about anyone. First off, our kids have energy. Lots and lots of energy. Ridiculous amounts of energy. Multiplied by five, it's enough energy to power the city of Cleveland. And the kids somehow magically feed off each other's energy, each consuming and mirroring the other's. Then our three dogs feed off it, and then the house itself seems to feed on it. A typical day includes: at least one sick child, toys strewn from one end of the living room to the other that magically reappear the moment after they've been put away, dogs barking, kids laughing, the phone ringing off the hook, FedEx and UPS deliveries coming and going, kids whining, lost homework, appliances breaking, school projects due tomorrow that our children somehow forget to tell us about until the last minute, baseball practice, gymnastics practice, football practice, Tae Kwon Do practice, repairmen coming and going, doors slamming, kids running down the hallway, kids throwing things, kids teasing each other, kids asking for snacks, kids crying because they fell, kids cuddling up on your lap, or kids crying because they need you RIGHT THIS MINUTE! When my in-laws leave after visiting for a week, they can't get to the airport soon enough. There are deep bags under their eyes and they carry the dazed, shell-shocked expression of veterans who just survived the landing on Omaha Beach. Instead of saying good-bye, my father-in-law shakes his head and whispers, "Good luck. You're going to need it."

  My wife accepts all of this activity in the house as normal. She's patient and seldom gets flust
ered. My wife seems to actually enjoy it most of the time. My wife, I might add, is a saint.

  Either that, or maybe she is insane.

  In our house, it's my job to handle the mail. It has to be done, after all, and in the course of our marriage, this is one of those little responsibilities that has fallen in my lap.

  The day that I received the brochure in the mail was a day like any other. Lexie, who was six months old, had a cold and refused to let my wife put her down; Miles had painted the dog's tail with fluorescent paint and was proudly showing it off; Ryan needed to study for a test but forgot the textbook at school and had decided to "solve" the problem by seeing how much toilet paper could be flushed down the toilet; Landon was coloring on the walls--again--and I can't remember what Savannah was doing, but no doubt it was something distressing, since at six months old she was already learning from her siblings. Add to that the television blaring, dinner cooking, dogs barking, a ringing phone, and the chaotic roar seemed to be reaching a fever pitch. I suspected that even my saintly wife might be nearing the end of her rope. Pushing away from the computer, I took a deep breath and stood from my desk. Marching into the living room, I took one look around at the world gone crazy, and--with instincts only men seem to possess--I knew exactly what to do. I cleared my throat, felt everyone's attention momentarily swing to me, and calmly announced:

  "I'm going to see if the mail's come in yet."

  A minute later, I was out the front door.

  Because our house is set a ways back from the road, it usually takes five minutes to walk out to the mailbox and back. The moment I closed the door behind me, the mayhem ceased to exist. I walked slowly, savoring the silence.

  Once back in the house, I noticed that my wife was trying to clean the cookie crumb drool from her shirt while holding both babies simultaneously. Landon was standing at her feet, tugging at her jeans, trying to get her attention. At the same time, she was helping the older boys with their homework. My heart surged with pride at her ability to multitask so efficiently and I held up the stack of mail so she could see it.

  "I got the mail," I offered.

  She glanced up. "I don't know what I'd do without you," she answered. "You're such a big help around here."

  I nodded. "Just doing my job," I said. "No reason to thank me."

  Like everyone else, I get my share of junk mail and I separated the important mail from the nonimportant. I paid the bills, skimmed through articles in a couple of magazines, and was getting ready to toss everything else into the circular file cabinet when I noticed a brochure I'd initially put in the trash pile. It had come from the alumni office at the University of Notre Dame, and advertised a "Journey to the Lands of Sky Worshipers." The tour was called "Heaven and Earth," and would travel around the world over a three-week period in January and February 2003.

  Interesting, I thought, and I began to peruse it. The tour--by private jet, no less--would journey to the Mayan ruins in Guatemala, the Incan ruins in Peru, the stone giants of Easter Island, and the Polynesian Cook Islands. There would also be stops at Ayers Rock in Australia; Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields and Holocaust Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; the Taj Mahal and the Amber Fort of Jaipur in India; the rock cathedrals of Lalibela, Ethiopia; the Hypogeum and other ancient temples in Malta; and finally--weather permitting--a chance to see the northern lights in Tromso, Norway, a town located three hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle.

  As a child, I'd always been fascinated with ancient cultures and faraway lands, and, more often than not, as I read the description of each proposed stop, I found myself thinking, "I've always wanted to see that." It was an opportunity to take the trip of a lifetime to places that had lingered in my imagination since boyhood. When I finished looking through the brochure, I sighed, thinking, Maybe one day . . .

  Right now, I just didn't have the time. Three weeks away from the kids? From my wife? From my work?

  Impossible. It was ridiculous, so I might as well forget about it. I shoved the brochure to the bottom of the pile.

  The thing is, I couldn't forget about the trip.

  You see, I'm a realist, and I figured that Cat (short for Cathy) and I would get the chance to travel sometime in the future. But while I knew that someday it might be possible to convince my wife to travel with me to see the Taj Mahal or Angkor Wat, there wasn't a chance we'd ever make it to Easter Island or Ethiopia or the jungles of Guatemala. Because they were so far out of the way and there were so many other things to see and places to go in the world, traveling to remote areas would always fall into the category of Maybe one day . . . and I was fairly certain that one day would never come.

  But here was the chance to do it all in one fell swoop, and ten minutes later--once the cacophony in the living room had died down as mysteriously as it had arisen--I was standing in the kitchen with my wife, the brochure open on the counter. I pointed out the highlights like a kid describing summer camp, and my wife, who has long since grown used to my flights of fancy, simply listened as I rambled on. When I finished, she nodded.

  "Mmm . . ." she said.

  "Is that a good mmm, or a bad mmm?"

  "Neither. I'm just wondering why you're showing me this. It's not like we can go."

  "I know," I said. "I just thought you might like to see it."

  My wife, who knows me better than anyone, knew there was more to it than that.

  "Mmm," she said.

  Two days later, my wife and I were walking through the neighborhood. Our oldest sons were ahead of us, the other three kids were in strollers, when I brought the subject up again.

  "I was thinking about that trip," I said, oh-so-casually.

  "What trip?"

  "The one that goes around the world. The one in the brochure that I showed you."

  "Why?"

  "Well . . ." I took a deep breath. "Would you like to go?"

  She took a few steps before answering. "Of course I'd like to go," she said. "It looks amazing, but it's impossible. I can't leave the kids for three weeks. What if something happened? There's not a chance that we could get back in an emergency. How many flights even go to a place like Easter Island? Lexie and Savannah are still babies, and they need me. All of them need me . . ." She trailed off. "Maybe other mothers could go, but not me."

  I nodded. I already knew what her answer would be.

  "Would you mind if I went?"

  She looked over at me. I already traveled extensively for my work, doing book tours two to three months a year, and my trips were always hard on the family. Though I wasn't always willing to dive headfirst into the chaos, I'm not completely worthless around the house. Cat has a schedule that frequently gets her out of the house--she has occasional breakfasts with friends, volunteers regularly at school, exercises at the gym, plays bunco with a group of ladies, and runs errands--and we both know she needs to get out of the house to keep from going crazy. In those moments I end up being solo dad. But when I'm gone, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for her to do anything outside the house. This is not good for my wife's state of mind.

  In addition, our kids like having both of us around. When I'm gone, if you can imagine it, the chaos in the house multiplies, as if filling the void of my absence. Suffice it to say, my wife gets tired of my traveling. She understands it's part of my job, but it doesn't mean that she likes it.

  Thus, my question was a fraught one.

  "Is it really that important to you?" she finally asked.

  "No," I said honestly. "If you don't want me to go, I won't. But I'd like to."

  "And you'd go alone?"

  I shook my head. "Actually, I was thinking about going with Micah," I said, referring to my brother.

  We walked in silence for a few moments before she caught my eye. "I think," she said, "that would be a wonderful idea."

  After Cat and I returned from our walk--and still in a state of partial disbelief--I went to my office to call my brother in California.

  I could hear t
he phone ringing, the sound more distant than that on a landline. Micah never answered his home phone; if I wanted to talk to him, I had to dial his cellular.

  "Hey Nicky," he chirped. "What's going on?"

  My brother has caller ID, and still tends to call me by my childhood name. I was, in fact, called Nicky until the fifth grade.

  "I have something I think you'll be interested in."

  "Do tell."

  "I got this brochure in the mail and . . . anyway, to make a long story short, I was wondering if you want to go with me on a trip around the world. In January."

  "What kind of trip?"

  I spent the next few minutes describing the highlights, flipping through the brochure as I spoke. When I finished, he was quiet on the other end.

  "Really?" he asked. "And Cat's going to let you go?"

  "She said she would." I hesitated. "Look, I know it's a big decision, so I don't need an answer now. We've got plenty of time until we have to confirm. I just wanted to get you thinking about it. I mean, I'm sure you'll have to clear it with Christine. Three weeks is a long time."

  Christine is my brother's wife; in the background, I could hear the faint cries of their newborn baby girl, Peyton.

  "I'm sure she'll think it's okay. But I'll check and call you back."

  "Do you want me to send the brochure?"

  "Of course," he said. "I should probably know where we're going, right?"

  "I'll FedEx it today," I said. "And Micah?"

  "Yeah?"

  "This is going to be the trip of our lives."

  "I'm sure it will be, little brother." I could almost see Micah grinning on the other end. "It will be."

  We said our good-byes, and after hanging up the phone I found myself eyeing the family photographs that line the shelves of my office. For the most part, the pictures are of the kids: I saw my children as infants and as toddlers; there was a Christmas photograph of all five of them, taken only a couple of months earlier. Beside that stood a photograph of Cathy, and on impulse I reached for the frame, thinking of the sacrifice she'd just made.

  No, she wasn't thrilled with the idea of me leaving for three weeks. Nor was she thrilled that I wouldn't be around to help with our five children; instead, she'd shoulder the load while I traveled the world.

 
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NICHOLAS SPARKS SERIES:

Jeremy Marsh
The Notebook

 


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