Материалы к занятию
She started toward an empty section of the railings a few fence posts down from the solitary cowboy. Above her, the sky was as clear as a glass bell, the moon hovering just over the distant tree line. She propped her elbows on the rough wooden rails and took in her surroundings. Off to the right were the rodeo stands, where she had watched the bull-riding contests earlier; directly behind them was a series of small enclosed pastures, which held the bulls. Though the corrals weren’t lit, a few of the arena lights were still on, casting the animals in a spectral glow. Behind the pens were twenty or thirty pickups and trailers, surrounded by their owners. Even from a distance, she could see the glowing tips of the cigarettes some of them were smoking and hear the occasional clink of bottles. She wondered what the place was used for when the rodeos weren’t in town. Did they use this place for horse shows? Dog shows? County fairs? Something else? There was a desolate, ramshackle feel to the place, suggesting that it sat empty much of the year. The rickety barn reinforced that impression, but then what did she know? She’d been born and raised in New Jersey.
That’s what Marcia would have said, anyway. She’d been saying it since they were sophomores, and it had been funny at first, then had worn thin after a while, and now was funny again, a kind of long-running joke just between the two of them. Marcia was from Charlotte, born and raised only a few hours from Wake Forest. Sophia could still remember Marcia’s bewildered reaction when she said she’d grown up in Jersey City. For all intents and purposes, Sophia might as well have said she’d been raised on Mars.
Sophia had to admit that Marcia’s reaction hadn’t been completely off base. Their backgrounds couldn’t have been more different. Marcia was the second of two; her father was an orthopedic surgeon, and her mother was an environmental attorney. Her older brother was in his last year of law school at Vanderbilt, and although the family wasn’t on the Forbes list, it definitely resided comfortably in the upper crust. She was the kind of girl who took equestrian and dance lessons as a girl and who received a Mercedes convertible on her sixteenth birthday. Sophia, on the other hand, was the child of immigrants. Her mother was French, her father was from Slovakia, and they’d arrived in the country with little more than the money they had in their pockets. Though educated — her father was a chemist, her mother a pharmacist — their English skills were limited and they spent years working menial jobs and living in tiny, run-down apartments until they saved enough to open their own delicatessen. Along the way, they had three more kids — Sophia was the oldest — and Sophia grew up working alongside her parents at the deli after school and on weekends.
The business was moderately successful, enough to provide for the family but never much more than that. Like many of the better students in her graduating class, until a few months before graduation she’d expected to attend Rutgers. She’d applied to Wake Forest on a whim because her guidance counselor had suggested it, but never in a million years could she have afforded it, nor did she really know much about the place beyond the beautiful photos that were posted on the university’s website. But surprising no one more than her, Wake Forest had come through with a scholarship that covered tuition, and in August Sophia had boarded the bus in New Jersey, bound for a virtually unknown destination where she’d spend much of the next four years.
It had been a great decision, at least from an educational standpoint. Wake Forest was smaller than Rutgers, which meant the classes were, too, and the professors in the Art History Department were passionate about teaching. She’d already had one interview for an internship at the Denver Art Museum — and no, they hadn’t asked a thing about her role at Chi Omega — which she thought had gone well, but she hadn’t heard back yet. Last summer, she’d also managed to save enough to buy her first car. It wasn’t much — an eleven-year-old Toyota Corolla with more than a hundred thousand miles on the engine, a dent in the rear door, and more than a few scrapes — but for Sophia, who’d grown up walking or riding the bus everywhere, it was liberating to be able to come and go as she pleased.
At the railing, she grimaced. Well, except for tonight, anyway. But that was her fault. She could have driven, but…
Why did Brian have to come here tonight? What did he think was going to happen? Did he honestly believe that she’d forget what he’d done to her — not once or twice, but three times? That she’d take him back just as she had previously?
The thing was, she didn’t even miss him. She wasn’t going to forgive him, and if he hadn’t been following her, she doubted she’d be thinking about him at all. Yet he was still able to ruin her night, and that bothered her. Because she was allowing it to happen. Because she was giving him that power over her.
Well, not anymore, she decided. She’d head back inside and hang with Marcia and Ashley and those Duke boys, and so what if Brian found her and wanted to talk? She’d simply ignore him. And if he tried to interfere with her good time? Well, she might even kiss one of the guys to make sure he knew she had moved on, period.
Smiling at the image, she turned from the railing, bumping into someone and almost losing her balance.
“Oh… excuse me,” she said automatically as she reached out to brace herself. As her hand met his chest and she looked up, she felt a burst of recognition and she recoiled.
“Whoa,” Brian said, catching her by the shoulders.
By then, she’d regained her balance and she assessed the situation with a sickening sense of predictability. He’d found her. They were face-to-face and alone together. Everything she’d been trying to avoid since the breakup. Great.
“Sorry about sneaking up on you like that.” Like Marcia’s, his words were slurred, which didn’t surprise her — Brian never missed an opportunity to tie one on. “I didn’t find you at the tables, and I had a hunch that you might be out here —”
“What do you want, Brian?” she demanded, cutting him off.
He flinched visibly at her tone. But as always, he recovered quickly. Rich people — spoiled people — always did.
“I don’t want anything,” he said, tucking one hand into the pocket of his jeans. When he staggered slightly, she realized he was well on his way to being falling-down drunk.
“Then why are you here?”
“I saw you out here all alone and thought I’d come over to make sure you were doing okay.” He cocked his head, trying on his “I’m so wholesome” routine, but his bloodshot eyes undermined his efforts.
“I was fine until you got here.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Wow. That’s harsh.”
“I have to be. You’ve been following me like a stalker.”
He nodded, acknowledging the truth of her words. And, of course, to show that he accepted her disdain. He could probably star in a video entitled How to Get Your Ex-Girlfriend to Forgive You… Again.
“I know,” he offered, right on cue. “I’m sorry about that.”
He shrugged. “I didn’t want it to end the way it did… and I just wanted to tell you how ashamed I am about everything that happened. You didn’t deserve it and I don’t blame you for ending it. I realize that I’ve been…”
Sophia shook her head, already tired of listening to him.
“Why are you doing this?”
“This,” she said. “This whole phony show. Coming out here, pretending to be so abject and apologetic. What do you want?”
Her question seemed to catch him off guard. “I’m just trying to say sorry —”
“For what?” she asked. “For cheating on me for the third time? Or for lying to me ever since I’ve known you?”
He blinked. “Come on, Sophia,” he said. “Don’t be like this. I don’t have any kind of agenda—really. I just don’t want you to go through the whole year feeling like you have to avoid me. We’ve been through too much for that.”
Despite the occasional slurring, he sounded almost credible. Almost. “You don’t get it, do you?” She wondered if he honestly thought she’d forgive him. “I know I don’t have to avoid you. I want to avoid you.”
He stared at her, plainly confused. “Why are you acting like this?”
“Are you kidding?”
“After you broke up with me, I knew I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. Because I need you. You’re good for me. You make me a better person. And even if we can’t be together, I’d like to think we could get together and talk sometime. Just talk. The way we used to. Before I screwed things up.”
She opened her mouth to reply, but his bravado left her speechless. Did he really think she’d fall for this again? “Come on,” he said, reaching for her hand. “Let’s get a drink and talk. We can work through this —”
“Don’t touch me!” Her voice rang out sharply.
She slid farther down the railing, away from him. “I said don’t touch me!”
For the first time, she glimpsed a flash of anger in his expression as he lunged for her wrist. “Calm down…”
She yanked her arm, trying to free it. “Let go of me!”
Instead, he drew close enough for her to smell the stale beer on his breath. “Why do you always have to make such a scene?” he demanded.
As she struggled to break free, she looked up at him and felt a cold blade of fear. This wasn’t a Brian she recognized. His brow was furrowed, almost wrinkled, his jaw ropy and distended. She froze, leaning away from his hot, labored breath. Later, she would recall only how paralyzed with fear she was, until she heard the voice behind her.
“You need to let her go,” the voice said.
Brian looked over and back to her again, squeezing harder. “We’re just talking,” he said, his teeth clenched, the muscle in his jaw flexing.
“It doesn’t look like you’re just talking to me,” the voice said.
“And I’m not asking you to let her go. I’m telling you.”
There was no mistaking the warning in the tone, but unlike the adrenaline-charged exchanges she’d sometimes witnessed at the frat houses, this stranger’s voice sounded calm.
It was a beat before Brian even registered the threat, but he clearly wasn’t intimidated. “I’ve got it handled. Why don’t you mind your own business?”
“Last chance,” came the voice. “I don’t want to have to hurt you. But I will.”
Too nervous to turn around, Sophia couldn’t help noticing bystanders outside the barn beginning to turn their way. From the corner of her eye, she watched two men rise from the tractor tire and start toward them; another pair pushed off a section of the railing, their hats shadowing their faces as they approached.
Brian’s bloodshot eyes flickered toward them, then he glared over Sophia’s shoulder at the man who had just spoken. “What? You calling in your friends now?”
“I don’t need them to deal with you,” the stranger said, his voice even.