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Chapter VIII. Part II
Twenty minutes later, we’re seated at a corner table at Jai Thai, two blocks away, both sinking our forks into pad Thai.
“Do you ever wonder what your parents would think of you now, all grown up?” Cade asks.
“Yeah,” I say, twisting an uncooperative noodle around my fork for the third time. “I wonder if they’d be proud of me, I guess.”
“Me too,” he says. “I mean, I’m almost thirty, and yet in some ways I still feel like the kid who’s looking for his parents’ approval.”
I nod. “I still feel like a kid.”
“Do you think we always will?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe. Maybe some people always remain young at heart.”
“I hope I’m one.”
“I think you are,” I say, watching a pair of teenagers saunter by on the sidewalk outside the window. The girl stops so her boyfriend can light her cigarette. She takes a long drag, then flips her hair behind her shoulder the way every girl does when she is sixteen.
“Did you ever smoke?” I ask.
“Nah,” he says. “But I tried. Didn’t we all?”
I grin. “My first cigarette was a —”
He holds out his hand. “Wait, let me guess, a —”
“Clove,” we both say in unison before laughing.
He reaches for another spring roll, and the humor in his eyes drifts away. “It’s funny to think that our parents did all the same things we did. Smoked cloves. Got in trouble. Felt lost.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Isn’t that the great realization of adulthood?”
He nods. “Exactly, that our parents didn’t have it figured out, nor do we. Maybe no one does.”
“Exactly,” I say. “I still can’t believe my byline’s in the newspaper.”
He grins. “And how could a kid who refused to take piano lessons and could barely pick out a few notes on the bass end up running a record label?”
“Your parents would be proud,” I say with confidence. “So proud.”
He looks away, and I wonder if my comment has found a pathway straight to his heart. He purses his lips for a moment, then turns back to me. “How did your parents meet?”
“In Big Sur,” I say.
“Yeah, they were hippies. Mom and her best friend were driving up Highway One in a Volkswagen bus, and my dad and his friend were hitchhiking on the road.”
“No way,” he says, smiling.
“They hit it off immediately, and ended up spending a weekend in Big Sur at some campground overlooking the ocean. It always sounded magical to me, at least in the way my grandmother described it.”
“I’ve never been,” Cade says.
“I’ve always wanted to go,” I say, “to retrace the steps of my parents’ love story.” I pause for a moment, remembering the stories my grandmother would tell of that dreamy time in my parents’ lives. Mom was beautiful, with golden hair, olive skin, and eyes the color of the sea. Dad was handsome for any decade, but particularly in 1971, with strong arms, a warm smile, and dark hair tied back in a ponytail. He wooed Mom with his passion for life, his dreams for the future, and his skill with the guitar (apparently he played her favorite Joan Baez song upon request and knew all the words). “They were soulmates,” I continue a little wistfully. “If you believe in that sort of thing.”
Cade shrugs. “I don’t know if I do,” he says. “I mean, I want to believe that each person gets to have one true love, someone who completes them.” He shakes his head. “But is that really the case?”
“Have you ever had your heart broken?” I ask, instead of giving him an answer.
“Yes,” he says simply.
I don’t press him for details, but I wonder about this girl who broke his heart. Was she beautiful? A musician? Someone who’s still in his life? And while I mourned a college breakup for longer than I care to admit, I don’t know that I can say whether I’ve ever had my heart broken in the true sense of the term. My heart has hurt, yes. But it hasn’t broken, not really.
“What are you keeping close to your heart?” he asks, pointing at my locket as a waitress refills our water glasses.
I immediately raise my hand to my neck and look down at the little locket I’ve worn all these years. I so rarely open it and, frankly, can’t even remember the last time I did. But it feels natural somehow to open it now, and so I finger the clasp until it releases; the tiny shell fragment, still the color of milk jade, falls into my palm, which I hold out to Cade.
“My grandfather found this shell on a beach in Normandy during the war,” I explain. “It broke, but I’ve always kept a little piece of it with me, for luck.”
“I love that,” Cade says, his eyes flashing. “I’ve been to Normandy.”
He nods. “My mom always wanted to see the north of France. She never got to go, so my aunt took me for her. Even though she couldn’t afford it, she put the whole thing on her credit card and we flew to Paris.” He pauses for a long moment. “Seeing my aunt cry one day at the beach.” He sighs. “It was something else.”
“Wow,” I say. “Have you been back?”
“No,” he says. “Not since then. But I’d like to.” He grins. “Maybe we could go back together and get you another one of those shells.”
I feel warm all over.
“How about this,” he continues. “Let’s make a pact that we’ll go there together, for the memories.” He touches my arm lightly. “What do you say?”
“I say yes.”
Chapter IX. Part I
“Hi,” I say to Ryan, setting my keys down on the kitchen counter.
“Hi,” he says, leaning in to place a kiss on my cheek. “How did the research go?”
“Good,” I say distractedly.
“Educate me. Tell me something about our city that I don’t already know. That will surprise me.”
“Over dinner, I promise. My thoughts are scattered now,” I say, sidestepping the truth—the surprise I got at Westlake Center.
He looks at me for a long moment. I avoid his gaze.
“I hope our children get your nose,” he says. “It’s so darn cute.”
I bite my lip. “Ryan, I’m not sure if I—”
“I know, I know,” he continues, his grin melting away. “You don’t know if you’re ready for a family. I get it. I’ll be patient. I promise.”
I nod, grateful to tuck the subject away once again, not ready to discuss it. Not yet.
“Is there something bothering you, baby?” he asks like a mind reader, tucking his hand in mine.
“No, no,” I lie.
“You and Trace didn’t get into a fight or anything, did you?”
“No,” I say.
“You’re stressed,” he says. “I can tell. Is it the feature? Are you getting any interview resistance? Because I can help. I can make some calls—”
“No, it’s not that,” I say. “I’m just overwhelmed, that’s all.”
“All right,” he says, nestling in closer to me. “You just say the word, and I’ll do what you need.”
“You’re wonderful, you know,” I say as he kisses my cheek lightly. And he is, this man I’m going to marry this summer. He’s wonderful in every way; I feel a pang of guilt rise in my chest.
“Hey,” he says, reaching for an old Converse shoebox beside the bar. “My parents are coming to visit next weekend, so I thought I’d better get the guest room in shape. Anyway, I found this.”
I reach for the box filled with old postcards and letters I’ve saved over the years. I intend to sort through and dispose of them, the same way I mean to spend quality time with those bridal magazines. Buried at the bottom is a black-and-white photo I thought was lost ages ago. I lift it out, and the hair on my arms stand on end.
“Wow,” Ryan says, leaning over my shoulders. “I know you’re camera-shy, but I wish I had more pictures of you. You look gorgeous. We should have it blown up and frame it. Maybe hang it over there by the—”
“No,” I say quickly, turning the photo over. “No, I’d rather not.”
“Oh,” Ryan says, a bit injured. “Why not? It’s a great picture from a composition standpoint.”
I blink hard, remembering how I stood on the edge of the ferry, leaning up against that kelly-green railing, wind blowing sideways against my cheek, whipping my hair this way and that. Still, I was smiling. I didn’t feel the cold. I wasn’t bothered by the wind. Cade was in front of me, his camera clicking. I look at Ryan again, his face expectant, eyes filled with love.
He tucks a wayward strand of my hair behind my left ear. “Was this taken in Seattle?”
“You’re so quiet about that time in your past,” he says.
“It feels like a lifetime ago,” I say with an exaggerated shrug.
“Kailey,” Ryan says, locking his eyes to mine. “I want to believe that. I really do. But sometimes, in moments like this, I feel like there’s a part of your heart that I haven’t yet been given access to.” He squeezes my hand. “Tell me you’ll let me in. Because I—”
“I have let you in,” I say quickly.
“Someday I want to meet the girl in that photo,” he says with a sigh, returning to the kitchen, where he pulls the dishwasher open and begins unloading the glasses into the upper cabinet by the window.
“You know that Ryan is a rare specimen,” Tracy told me after I started dating him four years ago. “An anomaly in the sea of men.” And she was, and is, right. Of every woman I know, none of their husbands or boyfriends helps out around the house, and yet Ryan insists on changing the sheets, folding laundry, and keeping the sink free of dishes.
“So, I thought that when my parents are here next weekend, we could take them to the Fairmont, show them the ballroom where the reception will be.”
“Sure,” I say absentmindedly.
“My mom would love that,” Ryan continues. “She asked me the color of the walls.” He gives me a knowing grin. “You know how she loves to color-coordinate.”
I force a smile. “Then let’s do it.”
Part of me is envious of Ryan, with his loving parents who are interested in their children’s lives. And yet, I suppose I’m ultimately jealous of anyone who has parents. As much as I’ve always been eager to gain a set of parents when I say “I do,” from day one there’s been something forced about the relationship with my soon-to-be in-laws. Ryan’s dad, Bennett, a banker who spends almost all of his free time at the country club, is nice enough, but I struggle to connect with him on any real level. Ryan’s mom, Melinda, is perpetually manicured and coiffed, clad in overpriced designer outfits she’ll wear only once to the lunches and galas that litter her schedule. High-maintenance, with the emphasis on high.
“I know my parents can be a little much,” he says, closing the dishwasher door. “But it’s just for a few days.”
“They’re always welcome in our home,” I reassure him.
“They love you, you know,” he continues. “They’ve always wanted to have a daughter, and now they’re getting the very best one.”
I smile as I reach for a pan from the pot rack. “I promised you risotto. Are you hungry?”
He shrugs. “Not very. Are you?”
“Not starving, but you should eat something.”
“I won’t argue,” he says. “You know there’s nothing you could make that I wouldn’t devour.”
“Just as long as it’s not spicy,” I say with a smile, noticing a bottle of Tabasco as I open the refrigerator. Although I might normally have enjoyed the challenge of putting together a last-minute meal, I don’t feel like cooking tonight. “You know,” I say, “I’m pretty tired. How would you feel about just getting some takeout?”
“Sure,” he says. “Indian? Thai? Something else?”
“Thai sounds great,” I say quietly.
Ryan nods and picks up his phone. “I’ll call it in.”
As I stand in my kitchen, my heart churns. I love this man I’m about to marry. I love how he places the water glasses rim-side down in the cabinet and thinks I look like a goddess with my hair up, even though I’ve never felt I had the face for it. I love how he kisses me in the morning and at night. Mostly I love how he loves me, so freely, so all-encompassingly.
In a burst of inspiration, I turn on the oven. Cinnamon. The scent of a happy home. I can bake Ryan some breakfast rolls for a fresh start tomorrow, to show him how much I adore him every day.
Suddenly the smoke alarm sounds. I intended to clean up the burned drippings from dinner two nights ago, but I forgot, and now my plan is ruined.