Материалы к занятию
“I’ve got a lot of stuff in the bed of my truck.”
Of course he did. Didn’t everyone? Marcia would have a field day with this.
By then, they’d reached the next fence, and the glow from the arena lights was growing stronger. Again, he hopped over it effortlessly, but this time the slats were placed too narrowly for her to squeeze through. Instead, she climbed up, perching on top before swinging her legs over. She took his hands as she jumped down, liking their callused warmth.
They trekked to a nearby gate and veered toward the trucks. Luke angled toward a shiny black one with big tires and a rack of lights across the roof, the only one parked with the nose in the opposite direction. He opened the tailgate and hopped up into the back. Again, he held out his hands, and with a quick lift, she was standing next to him in the bed of the truck.
Luke turned around and began rummaging, moving things aside, his back to her. She crossed her arms, wondering what Marcia was going to think of all this. She could imagine her questions already: We’re talking about the cute one, right? He took you where? What were you thinking? What if he was crazy? Meanwhile, Luke continued to sort through various items. She heard a metallic clunk as he finally reappeared beside her with the chair, the kind that most people brought to the beach. After opening it, he set it down in the bed of the truck and motioned toward it. “Go ahead and sit. It’ll be ready in just a bit.”
She stood without moving — again picturing Marcia’s skeptical face — but then decided, Why not? The whole night had felt slightly surreal, so finding herself sitting in a lawn chair in the bed of a pickup owned by a bull rider was an almost natural extension. She reflected on the fact that aside from Brian, the last time she’d been alone with a guy was the summer before she first came to Wake, when Tony Russo had taken her to the prom. They’d known each other for years, but past graduation, it hadn’t amounted to much. He was cute and smart — he was heading to Princeton in the fall — but he was all hands by their third date, and Luke set the other chair beside her, interrupting her thoughts. Instead of sitting, however, he hopped down from the bed and went around to the driver’s-side door and leaned inside the cab. A moment later, the radio came on. Country-western.
Of course, she thought to herself, amused. What else would it be?
After rejoining her, he took a seat and stretched out his legs in front of him, crossing one leg over the other.
“Comfy?” he asked.
“Getting there.” She squirmed a bit, conscious of how close they were to each other.
“Do you want to trade chairs?”
“It’s not that. It’s… this,” she said with an all-encompassing wave. “Sitting in chairs in the back of your truck. It’s new to me.”
“You don’t do this in New Jersey?”
“We do stuff. Like see movies. Go out to eat. Hang out at a friend’s house. I take it you didn’t do any of those things growing up?”
“Of course I did. I still do.”
“What was the last movie you went to?”
“What’s a movie?”
It took her a second to realize he was teasing, and he laughed at her rapidly changing expression. Then he motioned toward the rails. “They’re bigger up close, don’t you think?” he asked.
When Sophia turned, she saw a bull lumbering slowly toward them, not more than a few feet away, chest muscles rippling. Its size took her breath away; up close, it was nothing like viewing them in the arena.
“Holy crap,” she said, not hiding the wonder in her tone. She leaned forward. “It’s… huge.” She turned toward him. “And you ride those things? Voluntarily?”
“When they let me.”
“Was this what you wanted me to see?”
“Kind of,” he said. “Actually, it’s that one over there.”
He pointed into the pen beyond, where a cream-colored bull stood, his ears and tail switching, but otherwise unmoving. One horn was lopsided, and even from a distance she could make out the web of scars on his side. Though he wasn’t as large as some of the others, there was something wild and defiant in the way he stood, and she had the sense that he was challenging any of the others to come near him. She could hear his rough snorts breaking the silence of the night air.
When she turned back to Luke, she noticed a change in his expression. He was staring at the bull, outwardly calm, but there was something else there, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on.
“That’s Big Ugly Critter,” he said, his attention still on the bull. “That’s what I was thinking about when I was standing out there. I was trying to find him.”
“Is he one of the bulls you rode tonight?”
“No,” he said. “But after a while, I realized that I couldn’t leave here tonight without getting right up close to him. Which was strange, because when I got here, he was the last bull I wanted to see. That’s why I parked my truck backwards. And if I had drawn him tonight, I don’t know what I would have done.”
She waited for him to continue, but he didn’t. “I take it you’ve ridden him before.”
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I’ve tried, though. Three times. He’s what you call a rank bull. Only a couple of people have ever ridden him, and that was a few years back. He spins and kicks and shifts direction, and if he throws you, he tries to hook you for even trying to ride him in the first place. I’ve had nightmares about that bull. He scares me.” He turned toward her, his face half in shadow. “That’s something almost no one knows.”
There was something haunted in his expression, something she hadn’t expected.
“Somehow, I just can’t imagine you being afraid of anything,” she said quietly.
“Yeah, well… I’m human.” He grinned. “I’m not too fond of lightning, either, if you’re curious.”
She sat up straighter. “I like lightning.”
“It’s different when you’re out in the middle of a pasture, without any cover.”
“I’ll take your word on that.”
“My turn now. I get to ask a question. Anything I want.”
“How long were you dating Brian?” he asked.
She almost laughed, relieved. “That’s it?” she asked, not waiting for an answer. “We started going out when I was a sophomore.”
“He’s a big fellow,” he observed.
“He’s on a lacrosse scholarship.”
“He must be good.”
“At lacrosse,” she admitted. “Not so much in the boyfriend department.”
“But you still went out with him for two years.”
“Yeah, well…” She pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around them. “Have you ever been in love?”
He raised his head, as if trying to find the answers in the stars. “I’m not sure.”
“If you’re not sure, then you probably weren’t.”
He considered this. “Okay.”
“What? No argument?”
“Like I said, I’m not sure.”
“Were you upset when it ended?”
He pressed his lips together, weighing his response. “Not really, but Angie wasn’t either. It was just a high school thing. After graduation, I think both of us understood that we were on different paths. But we’re still friends. She even invited me to her wedding. I had a lot of fun at the reception, hanging out with one of her bridesmaids.”
Sophia looked toward the ground. “I loved Brian. I mean, before him, I had these little crushes, you know? Like when you write a boy’s name on your folder and draw little hearts around it? I guess people tend to put their first loves on pedestals, and in the beginning, I was no different. I wasn’t even sure why he wanted to go out with me—he’s good-looking and a scholarship athlete, and he’s popular and rich… I was so shocked when he singled me out for attention. And when we first started going out, he was so funny and charming. By the time he kissed me, I was already falling for him. I fell hard, and then…” She trailed off, not wanting to go into the details. “Anyway, I broke up with him right after school started up this year. Turns out he was sleeping with another girl from back home, all summer long.”
“And now he wants you back.”
“Yeah, but why? Is it because he wants me, or is it because he can’t have me?”
“Are you asking me?”
“I’m asking for your perspective. Not because I’ll take him back, because I won’t. I’m asking you as a guy.”
When he spoke, his words were measured. “A bit of both, probably. But from what I can tell, I’d guess it’s because he realized he made a big mistake.”
She absorbed the unspoken compliment in silence, appreciating his understated ways. “I’m glad I got to watch you ride tonight,” she said, knowing she meant it. “I thought you did really well.”
“I got lucky. I felt pretty rusty out there. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden.”
He brushed at his jeans, buying time before he answered.
For an instant, she thought she’d heard him wrong. “You haven’t ridden in a year and a half?”
She had the sense he was debating how to answer. “My last ride before tonight was a bad one.”
At his response, Sophia felt it click into place. “Big Ugly Critter,” she said.
“That’s the one,” he admitted. Warding off her next question, he focused on her again. “So you live in a sorority, huh?”
She noted the change of subject but was content to follow his lead. “It’s my third year in the house.”
His eyes glinted mischievously. “Is it really like people say? All pajama parties and pillow fights?”
“Of course not,” she said. “It’s more like negligees and pillow fights.”
“I think I’d like living in a place like that.” “I’ll bet.” She laughed.
“So what’s it really like?” he asked with genuine curiosity.
“It’s a bunch of girls who live together, and most of the time, it’s okay. Other times, not so much. It’s a world with its own set of rules and hierarchy, which is fine if you buy into those things. But I’ve never really drunk the Kool-Aid… I’m from New Jersey, and I grew up working in a struggling family business. The only reason I can even afford to go to Wake is because I’m on a full academic scholarship. There aren’t a lot of people in the house like me. I’m not saying that everyone else is rich, because they aren’t. And a lot of the girls in the house had jobs in high school. It’s just that…”
“You’re different,” he said, finishing for her. “I bet many of your sorority sisters wouldn’t be caught dead checking out a bull in the middle of a cow pasture.”
I wouldn’t be so sure about that, she thought. He was the winner of tonight’s rodeo, and he definitely qualified as eye candy, in Marcia’s words. For some of the girls in the house, that would have been more than enough.
“You said you have horses at your ranch?” she asked.
“We do,” he said.
“Do you ride them a lot?”
“Most days,” he answered. “When I’m checking on the cattle. I could use the Gator, but I grew up doing it on horseback, and that’s what I’m used to.”
“Do you ever just ride for fun?”
“Every now and then. Why? Do you ride?”
“No,” she said. “I’ve never ridden. There aren’t too many horses in Jersey City. But growing up, I always wanted to. I think all little girls do.” She paused. “What’s your horse’s name?” “Horse.”
Sophia waited for the joke, but it didn’t come. “You call your horse ‘Horse’?”
“He doesn’t mind.”
“You should give him a noble name. Like Prince or Chief or something.”
“It might confuse him now.”
“Trust me. Anything is better than Horse. It’s like naming a dog Dog.”
“I have a dog named Dog. Australian Cattle Dog.” He turned, his expression utterly matter-of-fact. “Great herder.”
“And your mom didn’t complain?”
“My mom named him.”
She shook her head. “My roommate is never going to believe this.”
“What? That my animals have — in your mind — strange names?”
“Among other things,” she teased.
“So tell me about college,” he said, and for the next half hour, she filled in the details about her daily life. Even to her ears, it sounded dull — classes, studying, social life on the weekends — but he seemed interested, asking questions now and then, but for the most part allowing her to ramble. She described the sorority — especially Mary-Kate — and a little about Brian and how he’d been behaving since school started. As they talked, people began to drift through the lot, some threading among the trucks with a tip of their hats, others stopping to congratulate Luke on his rides.
As the evening rolled on and the temperature dropped, Sophia felt goose bumps form on her arms. She crossed her arms, hunkering down in her chair.
“I’ve got a blanket in the cab if you need it,” he offered.
“Thanks,” she said, “but that’s okay. I should probably be getting back. I don’t want my friends to leave without me.”
“I figured,” he said. “I’ll walk you back.”
He helped her down from the pickup and they retraced their earlier path, the music growing louder as they approached. Soon they were standing outside the barn, which was only slightly less crowded than it had been when she’d left. Somehow it felt as though she’d been gone for hours.
“Do you want me to come in with you? In case Brian is still around?”
“No,” she said. “I’ll be fine. I’ll stick close to my roommate.”
He studied the ground, then raised his eyes. “I had a nice time talking to you, Sophia.”
“Me too,” she said. “And thanks again. For earlier, I mean.”
“I was glad to help.”
He nodded and turned, Sophia watching as he started away. It would have ended there—and later she would wonder whether she should have let it — but instead she took a step after him, the words coming out automatically.
“Luke,” she called. “Wait.”
When he faced her, she raised her chin slightly. “You said you were going to show me your barn. Supposedly, it’s more rickety than this one.”
He smiled, flashing his dimples. “One o’clock tomorrow?” he asked. “I’ve got some things to do in the morning. How about if I pick you up?”
“I can drive,” she said. “Just text me the directions.”
“I don’t have your number.”
When he told her, she dialed it, hearing the ring a few feet away. She ended the call and stared at him, wondering what had gotten into her.
“Now you do.”