The WishNicholas Sparks
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2021 by Willow Holdings, Inc.
Cover design by Flag. Cover art by Tom Hallman. Cover photos: fireworks and background image © Getty Images.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Sparks, Nicholas, author.
Title: The wish / Nicholas Sparks.
Description: First edition. | New York : Grand Central Publishing, 2021.
Identifiers: LCCN 2021023037 | ISBN 9781538728628 (hardcover) |
ISBN 9781538706152 (large print) | ISBN 9781538728611 (ebook)
Classification: LCC PS3569.P363 W57 2021 | DDC 813/.54—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2021023037
ISBNs: 978-1-5387-2862-8 (hardcover), 978-1-5387-2861-1 (ebook), 978-1-5387-0615-2 (large print), 978-1-5387-0948-1 (signed hardcover), 978-1-5387-0949-8 (B&N signed hardcover), 978-1-5387-0883-5 (trade pbk. intl.)
A Letter from Nicholas Sparks
’Tis the Season
The Christmas Tree
The Second Trimester
Holiday Spirit and Christmas Eve
The Third Trimester
Travel Photos from Nicholas Sparks
Discover More Nicholas Sparks
Also by Nicholas Sparks
For Pam Pope and Oscara Stevick
I’d like to thank you for downloading the ebook version of my latest novel, The Wish. It’s a very special book to me, as it combines two deep-seated passions of mine: a fascination with travel (I’ve actually included some of the photos from my travels in this ebook edition), and my profound attachment to North Carolina, where all of my novels have been set.
In the past eighteen years, beginning with the around-the-world trip documented in my memoir, Three Weeks with My Brother, I’ve had the privilege of traveling to some of the most remarkable places in the world, each unforgettable for its natural geography, rare cultural history, or astounding wildlife. However, the best part of any trip is coming home…and small-town North Carolina has been my beloved home for decades now. I never tire of its slow rhythms, easygoing charm, and varied landscapes.
On the first page of The Wish, you will meet Maggie Dawes, a New York–based travel photographer who has made a career of capturing images from every corner of the globe. But the origins of her extraordinary career lie in a summer when she was just sixteen years old and found herself exiled to a tiny island off the coast of North Carolina in the off-season. Ocracoke Island is a tiny resort destination, windswept and beautiful, but quite isolated during the winter…Nonetheless it is there, among the hardy island folk, that she finds not only a first love that marks her forever, but also family and a passion that will become her career.
I am attached to all of the books I’ve written for different reasons, but I do think this might be one of my very best. You will cry, but hopefully you’ll also laugh, and come away deeply satisfied from this story of a woman trying to reconcile what “might have been” with the way things turned out for her. It’s a challenge we all face as humans—to find and express love, in the time and in the ways that our often-unpredictable lives allow.
Thank you again, and happy reading,
This year marks my twenty-fifth anniversary as a published author—a milestone I certainly couldn’t have imagined when I first held a copy of The Notebook in my hands. At the time, I honestly didn’t know if I’d ever come up with a good story idea again, much less whether I would be able to support myself and my family on a writer’s earnings.
The fact that I’ve been able to keep doing what I love for a quarter of a century is a testament to the brilliant and stalwart group of supporters who advise, celebrate, nag, comfort, strategize, and advocate on my behalf 24/7. Many of them have been by my side for decades. Take Theresa Park, for example: we met in our twenties, worked maniacally through our thirties and forties while raising families and making movies together, and are now trying to live wisely and productively in our fifties. We are friends, partners, and fellow travelers on the road of life, our relationship having weathered countless highs and lows in careers that have never, ever been dull.
I’ve known the entire team at Park & Fine for so long that I can hardly imagine publishing a book or marketing a film without them. They are without question the most knowledgeable, sophisticated, intrepid group of publishing representatives in the industry—Abigail Koons, Emily Sweet, Alexandra Greene, Andrea Mai, Pete Knapp, Ema Barnes, and Fiona Furnari bring excellence and expertise to everything they do on the fiction side; their colleagues who work in the world of nonfiction are every bit their equal. Celeste, I was thrilled to get to know you when you combined forces with Theresa—and could tell right away why you two were such a perfect fit!
Grand Central Publishing continues to be my home, all these years on. And although the faces have changed throughout the decades, the ethos of decency, kindness, and partnership with authors has been a constant. Michael Pietsch has led the company through countless evolutions and challenges with integrity and strategic foresight; publisher Ben Sevier has been a wonderful manager and architect of an evolving business; and editor in chief Karen Kosztolnyik has proven to be a gentle and encouraging champion of my work, rigorous and yet respectful with her editorial pen. Brian McLendon, your unflagging efforts to reinvent the look and messaging of my books, year after year, deserve an award—my team loves your irrepressible enthusiasm, which, along with the indefatigable Amanda Pritzker’s efforts, keeps my books front of mind and perpetually ripe for discovery. Beth de Guzman, you are among the few people who have been with my publisher since the very first book, and your tireless work to keep my backlist fresh and appealing is one of the secrets to my success. Matthew Ballast is the Zen master of author publicity, soft-spoken and unflappable, and his colleague Staci Burt is the savvy, responsive publicist wh
o fears neither COVID, unpredictable tour schedules, nor cranky authors. And to art director Albert Tang and my longtime cover designer Flag: you guys are geniuses, managing to surprise me with striking, beautiful covers year after year.
Catherine Olim deserves a medal of valor for all of the crises she’s defused and the generous publicity she’s garnered for my work—a plainspoken, fearless coach and warrior, she is never afraid to give me tips on my on-screen performances or protect me from unfair critics. LaQuishe “Q” Wright is the absolute star of the social media world, with instincts, relationships, and strategic savvy unparalleled in that mercurial and rapidly changing world. She loves her work, and her star-studded client roster benefits from her passion. Mollie Smith, is there a designer and fan outreach expert with a better feel for design AND audiences? You are the whole package and, together with Q, have always steered my public outreach with deft assurance.
My longtime Hollywood representative, Howie Sanders of Anonymous Content, has been my wise advisor and deeply loyal friend for decades. I treasure his advice and admire his integrity; after everything we have been through together, my trust in him is complete. Scott Schwimer has been my relentless (yet charming!) advocate and negotiator for twenty-five years, and he’s definitely seen it all—he knows me and the ins and outs of my career like few others, and he is an invaluable member of my close-knit brain trust.
In my personal life, I have been blessed with a circle of friends and family whose love and support I can rely on each and every day. In no particular order, I’d like to thank Pat and Bill Mills; the Thoene clan, which includes Mike, Parnell, Matt, Christie, Dan, Kira, Amanda, and Nick; the Sparks clan, including Dianne, Chuck, Monte, Gail, Sandy, Todd, Elizabeth, Sean, Adam, Nathan, and Josh; and finally Bob, Debbie, & Cody and Cole Lewis. I’d also like to acknowledge the following friends, all of whom mean so much to me: Victoria Vodar; Jonathan and Stephanie Arnold; Todd and Gretchen Lanman; Kim and Eric Belcher; Lee, Sandy, and Max Minshull; Adriana Lima; David and Morgan Shara; David Geffen; Jeannie and Pat Armentrout; Tia and Brandon Shaver; Christie Bonacci; Drew and Brittany Brees; Buddy and Wendy Stallings; John and Stephanie Zannis; Jeanine Kaspar; Joy Lenz; Dwight Carlbom; David Wang; Missy Blackerby; Ken Gray; John Hawkins and Michael Smith; the Van Wie family (Jeff, Torri, Ana, Audrey, and Ava); Jim Tyler; Chris Matteo; Rick Muench; Paul du Vair; Bob Jacob; Eric Collins; and last but not least, my wonderful children who mean the world to me. Miles, Ryan, Landon, Lexie, and Savannah—I love you all.
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’Tis the Season
Whenever December rolled around, Manhattan transformed itself into a city that Maggie didn’t always recognize. Tourists thronged the shows on Broadway and flooded the sidewalks outside department stores in Midtown, forming a slow-moving river of pedestrians. Boutiques and restaurants overflowed with shoppers clutching bags, Christmas music filtered from hidden speakers, and hotel lobbies sparkled with decorations. The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was lit by multicolored bulbs and the flashes of thousands of iPhones, and crosstown traffic, never speedy in the best of times, became so jammed up that it was often quicker to walk than to take a cab. But walking had its own challenges; frigid wind frequently whipped between the buildings, necessitating thermal underwear, plentiful fleece, and jackets zipped to the collars.
Maggie Dawes, who considered herself a free spirit consumed by wanderlust, had always loved the idea of a New York Christmas, albeit in a look how pretty postcard kind of way. In reality, like a lot of New Yorkers, she did her best to avoid Midtown during the holidays. Instead, she either stayed close to her home in Chelsea or, more commonly, fled to warmer climes. As a travel photographer, she sometimes thought of herself less as a New Yorker and more as a nomad who happened to have a permanent address in the city. In a notebook she kept in the drawer of her nightstand, she’d compiled a list of more than a hundred places she still wanted to visit, some of them so obscure or remote that even reaching them would be a challenge.
Since dropping out of college twenty years ago, she’d been adding to the list, noting places that sparked her imagination for one reason or another even as her travels enabled her to cross out other destinations. With a camera slung over her shoulder, she’d visited every continent, more than eighty-two countries, and forty-three of the fifty states. She’d taken tens of thousands of photographs, from images of wildlife in the Okavango Delta in Botswana to shots of the aurora borealis in Lapland. There were photographs taken as she’d hiked the Inca Trail, others from the Skeleton Coast in Namibia, still more among the ruins of Timbuktu. Twelve years ago, she’d learned to scuba dive and had spent ten days documenting marine life in Raja Ampat; four years ago, she’d hiked to the famous Paro Taktsang, or Tiger’s Nest, a Buddhist monastery built into a cliffside in Bhutan with panoramic views of the Himalayas.
Others had often marveled at her adventures, but she’d learned that adventure is a word with many connotations, not all of them good. A case in point was the adventure she was on now—that’s how she sometimes described it to her Instagram followers and YouTube subscribers—the one that kept her largely confined to either her gallery or her small two-bedroom apartment on West Nineteenth Street, instead of venturing to more exotic locales. The same adventure that led to occasional thoughts of suicide.
Oh, she’d never actually do it. The thought terrified her, and she’d admitted as much in one of the many videos she’d created for YouTube. For almost ten years, her videos had been rather ordinary as far as photographers’ posts went; she’d described her decision-making process when taking pictures, offered numerous Photoshop tutorials, and reviewed new cameras and their many accessories, usually posting two or three times a month. Those YouTube videos, in addition to her Instagram posts and Facebook pages and the blog on her website, had always been popular with photography geeks while also burnishing her professional reputation.
Three and a half years ago, however, on a whim, she’d posted a video to her YouTube channel about her recent diagnosis, one that had nothing to do with photography. The video, a rambling, unfiltered description of the fear and uncertainty she suddenly felt when she learned she had stage IV melanoma, probably shouldn’t have been posted at all. But what she imagined would be a lonely voice echoing back at her from the empty reaches of the internet somehow managed to catch the attention of others. She wasn’t sure why or how, but that video—of all the ones she’d ever posted—had attracted a trickle, then a steady stream, and finally a deluge of views, comments, questions, and upvotes from people who had never heard of her or her work as a photographer. Feeling as though she had to respond to those who’d been moved by her plight, she’d posted another video regarding her diagnosis that became even more popular. Since then, about once a month, she’d continued to post videos in the same vein, mainly because she felt she had no choice but to continue. In the past three years, she’d discussed various treatments and how they’d made her feel, sometimes even displaying the scars from her surgery. She talked about radiation burns and nausea and hair loss and wondered openly about the meaning of life. She mused about her fear of dying and speculated on the possibility of an afterlife. They were serious issues, but maybe to stave off her own depression when discussing such a miserable subject, she did her best to keep the videos as light in tone as possible. She supposed that was part of the reason for their popularity, but who really knew? The only certainty was that somehow, almost reluctantly, she’d become the star of her own reality web series, one that had begun with hope but had slowly narrowed to focus on a single inevitable ending.
And—perhaps unsurprisingly—as the grand finale approached, her viewership exploded even more.
* * *
In the first Cancer Video—that’s how she mentally referred to them, as opposed to her Real Videos—she stared into the camera with a wry grin and said,
“Right off the bat, I hated it. Then it started growing on me.”
She knew it was probably in poor taste to joke about her illness, but the whole thing struck her as absurd. Why her? At the time, she was thirty-six years old, she exercised regularly, and she followed a reasonably healthy diet. There was no history of cancer in her family. She’d grown up in cloudy Seattle and lived in Manhattan, which ruled out a history of sunbathing. She’d never visited a tanning salon. None of it made any sense, but that was the point about cancer, wasn’t it? Cancer didn’t discriminate; it just happened to the unlucky, and after a while she’d finally accepted that the better question was really Why NOT her? She wasn’t special; to that point in her life, there’d been times when she considered herself interesting or intelligent or even pretty, but the word special had never entered her mind.
When she’d received her diagnosis, she would have sworn she was in perfect health. A month earlier, she’d visited Vaadhoo Island in the Maldives, on a photo shoot for Condé Nast. She’d traveled there hoping to capture the bioluminescence just offshore that made ocean waves glow like starlight, as if lit from within. Sea plankton was responsible for the spectral, spectacular light, and she’d allotted extra time to shoot some images for personal use, perhaps for eventual sale in her gallery.
She was scouting a mostly empty beach near her hotel in midafternoon with a camera in hand, trying to envision the shot she aimed to take once evening descended. She wanted to capture a hint of the shoreline—with perhaps a boulder in the foreground—the sky, and, of course, the waves just as they were cresting. She’d spent more than an hour taking different shots from different angles and various locations on the beach when a couple strolled past her, holding hands. Lost in her work, she barely registered their presence.