Always. Занятие 20

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“Why not Paris?” Melinda continues. “Or Venice. Bennett and I absolutely adore Venice.”


“Mom,” Ryan says, picking up on my body language, “Kailey and I will plan a wonderful honeymoon. Don’t you worry.”


“Of course, dear,” she says. “It’s just that Big Sur is so…ordinary.”


“It’s where my parents met,” I say. My voice isn’t defensive but dreamy.


“Oh,” Melinda says. “I didn’t mean”


“I understand,” I say quickly. “I don’t expect it to be special to you, but it is to me.”


Dinner arrives, and our conversation, mostly small talk, ebbs and flows between bites of duck and parchment-wrapped halibut. When our plates are empty, Bennett pays the bill, and Ryan and his dad excuse themselves to the restroom while Melinda and I wait by the door of the restaurant.


“It’s good to see Ryan so happy,” Melinda says to me. She stares at me for a long moment, and I realize that her comment is less an observation than a warning to me. As in My son is happy, don’t mess it up. Don’t hurt him.


Bennett and Ryan return before I can respond. Ryan puts his arm around my waist as we walk outside. “I’m parked a block up,” I say as Bennett hands the valet the claim ticket for Ryan’s car. “I should have valeted.” I glance across the street to the restaurant where I first saw Cade. My heart lurches in my chest.


“Let me walk you to your car,” Ryan says, taking my hand. We start walking but turn around again when we hear Melinda raise her voice.


“Bennett,” she calls, “this man is harassing me!”


Ryan’s dad, who is talking to a young man at the valet desk, turns to his wife. When Melinda takes a step back, I feel the blood rush to my head. It’s Cade. He’s still wearing the hospital gown but with his army coat draped over it. He looks confused, more disheveled than ever.


“He means no harm,” I say, rushing to Melinda’s side.


“Well,” she says with a gasp, “I suppose it’s wishful thinking these days to expect you can have a meal at a nice restaurant and not end up being panhandled.”


I shake my head. “I’m sure he wasn’t panhandling,” I say without thinking.


“He approached me for money,” Melinda continues, aghast.


I shake my head. “This man doesn’t speak.”


“Are you accusing me of…lying?”


“No,” I say, searching Cade’s eyes.


“Well,” Melinda says, pausing for a moment, “it wasn’t what he said, but how he looked at me.” She drapes the back of her hand against her forehead as if to drive home the point that she might in fact faint. “He frightened me.”


“Are you okay?” I ask Cade, forgetting time and space and everything else.


His eyes lock onto mine and he reaches for my arm. I let him take it.


Melinda gasps. “Kailey, do you know this man?”


She and Bennett stand on the sidewalk in disbelief, waiting for my response. There might as well be a thousand spotlights on me. I’m onstage, and the curtains have just opened.


“I, uh, I…” I falter as I search for the right words, any words. I feel Ryan’s gaze burn my face. Confused. Worried. Two worlds are colliding right before my eyes. I could lie and say I interviewed him for a story. I blink hard, breaking my gaze from Cade’s and freeing my arm from his grasp. If one can break her own heart, in that moment I break mine. “No,” I finally say. “No, I don’t know this man.”


Cade’s eyes mirror the pain I feel as Ryan takes my hand. “Here, man,” he says, reaching into his pocket and placing some bills in Cade’s hand. I stare at my feet. “Mom, Dad, why don’t you take my car. I’ll drive home with Kailey.”


Ryan takes my keys. I’m glad, because I’m too shaken to drive. Every ounce of me wants to rush back, to rescue Cade from another night on the street. But how? Bring him home to our house and parade him in front of Melinda and Bennett? Tell Ryan everything? And then what?


With each stoplight, each mile, each moment that Ryan drives the car into the night, my insides churn. Tonight I feel as if I’ve just left my most valuable possession on the streets of Seattle, hoping that it will still be there, unfazed, unhurt, intact, by morning.


“Do you want to talk about it?” Ryan finally asks after a long silence.


I shake my head.


“When are you going to open up to me, Kailey? You know there’s nothing you could tell me that would make me love you less. Nothing.”


I nod and turn to the window, blinking back tears as the city whizzes by.


“Happy birthday,” Cade says, poking his head into my cubicle at the Herald. Startled, I look up from my computer screen to see him standing in my doorway holding an enormous bouquet of red roses. He wears a gray zip-up hoodie, jeans, and black Converse shoes. His hair is a bit tousled.


“You remembered,” I say, standing up to kiss him.


“Of course I remembered,” he replies with a grin. “And now I need you to go home and pack your suitcase, because we have a three-thirty flight to catch.”


I shake my head. “What do you mean?”


His smile is infectious. “I’m taking you to Big Sur.”


“Big Sur?”


“Yes, ma’am,” he continues. “I figure everyone should see the place where their parents met. And don’t worry, I talked to your editor. Your schedule is officially cleared for the next four days.”


I bite my lip, hardly able to contain my excitement. Big Sur! “But do you have the time? Can you get away for that long?”


“For you, yes,” he says with a smile. “James can handle things while I’m gone.”


I recall an argument he had with James last week, something about the purchase of a recording studio, but I don’t mention it. If he’s okay with the trip, then I should be, too. And I am. I’m happy, and excited, and touched, all at the same time. It’s been eight months since we started dating, and after Tracy and Mark went to New York last month, I’ve secretly been dying to travel with Cade, even just a simple adventure to the San Juan Islands, a few hours north.


“So you told her, then,” Jan says, appearing in the doorway with a satisfied smile.


I nod. “Thank you,” I say to Jan, reaching for my coat and bag. “I’m going to Big Sur!”


“I expect a column out of this,” she says half-seriously.


I nod, unable to stop smiling.


“Happy birthday, Kailey.”


Cade rents a convertible in San Francisco, and we put the top down and drive south to Highway 1, passing through Monterey and Carmel, cool wind in our hair, smiles on our faces, music blasting through the speakers. The road is narrow and winding, and I cling to my seat as the car hugs the edge of the cliffs that drop down hundreds of feet to the sea.


The terrain is breathtaking, the air intoxicating. I’ve never smelled anything like it, in factthis aromatic blend of the bark of redwood trees and the spray of salty ocean air. No wonder my parents fell in love here. It’s magic.


I glance over at Cade, who looks a slight shade of green. “You’re carsick,” I say, feeling a little queasy myself.


He nods and pulls over at an outlook ahead, where a group of tourists are posing for the camera.


“Wow,” he says, taking a deep breath. “That drive is as beautiful as it is nauseating.”


We laugh together, and then he reaches for his camera in the backseat and tells me to pause by the ledge. “Right there,” he says, looking through the camera lens. I smile nervously, wondering what he sees. “Beautiful,” he continues, clicking once, then twice, then again.


A man approaches us and smiles. “Would you like me to take a photo of the two of you together?”


“Thanks,” Cade says, handing him his camera.


We’ve had a few Polaroids snapped at parties, but I realize that this will be our first photo together.


Cade kisses my cheek as the camera clicks, and I wonder if we’ll look at this picture when we’re old. I wonder if we’ll show it to our children, and their children, if we’ll come back to this place years from now and remember this moment.


We get back into the car and drive another few miles, then Cade turns onto a road that winds up a hillside. “This is Post Ranch Inn,” he says. “I wanted you to stay in the most beautiful place in Big Sur.”


I squeeze his hand as we pull into the circular drive. A man greets us and unloads our luggage. A few minutes later, we’re whisked away on a golf cart to our room, a private, modern-looking cabin perched on the cliff. The furnishing is beautifully rustic, and I’m drawn to a painting on the wall of a coastal scene.


Cade lies on the bed, sinking into one of the pillows. “You know what I like to do in hotels?”


I flash him a curious smile. “What?”


He grins mischievously. “Back in the day, I traveled a lot for Element, was gone more than I was home. I spent so many nights in random hotels that eventually I came up with a way to entertain myself.” He points to the painting on the wall that I’d been looking at. “Of course, that’s really high-end, but hotel art is usually the worst.”


I nod. “Like the kind of thing you’d find in a dentist’s office.”


“Exactly,” he says. “So I started bringing index cards and pushpins with me on trips.” He sits up and laughs to himself. “You know when you’re at a restaurant or café and the art on display is for sale?”


“Well, I’d be in a hotel somewhere, and I’d pick the cheesiest framed print in the room, then write up a little index card for it. I’d title it something like Drifting Through the Willows, in Retrospective or whatever cheeseball name that I could come up with, and then I’d list a price underneath.”


I laugh. “Why?”


“Well, just think about it. I check out, and the next person who has the room might be Myrtle and Bob from Orlando, Florida. Myrtle sees that there’s a painting for sale.


“ ‘Look, Bob, original art! It’s only three hundred dollars. Bob, we have to buy it.’ And Bob, wanting to please Myrtle, picks up the phone and calls the front desk.


“ ‘Yes,’ he says. ‘This is Bob Smith in room 402. Yes, I’d like to buy the painting on the wall.’


“Long pause. ‘I’m sorry, sir,’ the hotel girl says, ‘what painting?’


“ ‘Drifting Through the Willows,’ he says, clearing his throat, ‘in Retrospective.’ Long pause. ‘The one for sale in our room.’


“ ‘Sir, we don’t sell the art in the rooms.’ ”


I fall onto the bed beside Cade, unable to stop laughing. “I’m going to pee my pants.”


Cade stays in character.


“‘Yes, you do sell art.’ Myrtle is now fretting. ‘I see the tag right here. My wife wants to hang it in our living room.’


“‘Sir, I’m going to have to talk to a manager about this.’


“‘Listen, my wife has become very attached to this painting, and we would like to buy it.’ ”


“I don’t know where you come up with stuff like this,” I say, laughing so hard that my eyes are tearing up.


He turns over onto his side, leaning into his elbow. His eyes sparkle, and I feel a surge of something I can’t explain.


“Let’s spend the rest of our lives together,” he says, tucking a lock of my hair behind my ear.


I blink hard. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”


His eyes don’t leave mine. “It’s what my heart wants. Does yours?”


“Yes,” I say, feeling tears sting my eyes.


I put on a black dress with spaghetti straps and a pair of platform heels. I pull my hair back into a low bun, grab a sweater, then take Cade’s hand as we walk up the path to the restaurant.


Along the way, a little girl in a floral dress runs ahead singing to herself. She must be four, maybe five. “Grace!” her father calls.


She giggles joyfully as her parents, walking hand in hand, catch up to her.


“Got you,” her father says, lifting her into his arms. She giggles again.


“I’ve always loved the name Grace,” Cade says.


“Me too,” I say.


He watches the little girl skipping along, then turns back to me and nods as if he’s made a definitive decision. “Grace.”


When we reach the restaurant, the sun is flirting with the horizon, ready to set but not quite. The view is spectacular, and we choose to walk out to the deck so we can soak up the sky, painted elaborate shades of pink and orange, before being seated.


“Do you like it here?” he asks, tucking his arms around my waist, his body pressing against my back.


“I love it,” I say, watching the waves crash onto the shore below.


“Let’s walk down to the beach tonight,” he says. “After dinner.”


“Let’s,” I say.


“I can see why your parents were drawn together here.”


I nod, thinking of their love story. I’ve heard it a thousand times from Grandma. Dad said she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. And she thought he was the handsomest. They fit like two peas in a pod, Grandma said. They were…soulmates.


Unbidden memories wash in like waves, one after the next, crashing in with such force, I brace myself. I can smell the Coppertone sunscreen in the brown bottle. My hands are, once again, sticky with roasted marshmallows. The delphiniums in Grandma’s garden stand at attention. I don’t know where these thoughts are coming from. But then I realize that the reason these disparate snapshots from my childhood are bubbling up in my heart is the man standing behind me. I realize that with him, anywhere, I am home.

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Диана Семёнычева

Диана Семёнычева