Материалы к занятию
“On the grill,” he said. “My dad taught me.”
“I think I’d like for you to grill for me sometime.”
“I’ll make anything you want. As long as it’s burgers, steaks, or pork chops.”
She leaned closer. “So what’s next? Would you like to risk our luck and go to a frat party? I’m sure they’re getting going about now.”
“What about Brian?”
“We’ll go to a party at a different house. One he never goes to. And we wouldn’t have to stay long. You might have to ditch the hat, though.”
“If you’d like to, I’m game.”
“I can go anytime. I was asking for you.”
“What are they like?” he asked. “Music, a bunch of drinking college kids, that kind of stuff?”
He thought about it for a second before shaking his head.
“It’s not really my thing,” he admitted.
“I didn’t think so. We could always do a tour of the campus if you’d like.”
“I think I’d rather save that for another time. So you have to go out with me again.”
She traced her finger around the rim of her water glass. “Then what do you want to do?”
He didn’t answer right away, and for the first time, he wondered how different things might be had he not made the decision to ride again. His mom wasn’t happy, and frankly, even he wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but somehow it had led to a date with a girl he already knew he’d never forget.
“Are you up for a little drive? I know a place where I can promise you won’t see anyone you know. It’s quiet, but it’s really pretty at night.”
Back at the ranch, the moon lent a silver wash to the world as they stepped out of the truck. Dog, a blur in the darkness, came racing out from beneath the porch, stopping at Sophia’s side almost as though he’d been expecting them.
“I hope this is okay,” he said. “I wasn’t sure where else to go.”
“I knew you were bringing me here,” Sophia said, reaching down to pet Dog. “If it bothered me, I would have said something.”
He motioned toward his house. “We could sit on the porch, or there’s a great spot down by the lake.”
“Not the river?”
“You’ve already been to the river.”
She took in the surroundings, then turned to him again. “Are we going to sit in chairs in the back of the truck again?”
“Of course,” he said. “Trust me, you wouldn’t want to sit on the ground. It’s a pasture.”
He watched as Dog began to circle her legs. “Can we bring Dog?” she asked.
“Dog will follow whether I want him to come or not.” “Then the lake it is,” she said.
“Let me just get some things from the house, okay?”
He left her, returning with a small cooler and some blankets beneath his arm, which he loaded into the back of the truck. They got in, the engine coming to life with a roar.
“Your truck sounds like a tank,” she shouted over the noise. “I don’t know if you’re aware of that.”
“Do you like it? I had to modify the exhaust system to make it sound the way it does. I added a second muffler and everything.”
“You did not. No one does that.”
“I did,” he offered. “Lots of people do.”
“People who live on ranches, maybe.”
“Not just us. People who hunt and fish do it, too.”
“Basically anyone with a gun and a passion for the outdoors, in other words.”
“You mean there are other kinds of people in the world?”
She smiled as he backed out, turning onto the drive before heading past the farmhouse. There were lights blazing from inside the living room, and he wondered what his mom was doing. He thought then about what he’d said to Sophia and what he hadn’t.
Trying to clear his thoughts, he rolled down the window, resting his elbow on the ledge. The truck bumped along, and from the corner of his eye, he could see Sophia’s wheat-colored hair fanning out in the breeze. She was staring out the passenger window as they rode past the barn in comfortable silence.
At the pasture, he hopped out and opened a gate before nosing the truck through and closing the gate behind him. Turning the beams on high, he drove slowly to avoid damaging the grass. Near the lake, he stopped and turned the truck around, just as he had at the rodeo, and shut down the engine.
“Watch where you step,” he warned. “Like I said, this is part of the pasture.”
He opened her window and turned on the radio, then went around to the back of the truck. He helped Sophia climb up before setting up the chairs. And then, just as they had less than a week earlier, they sat in the bed of the truck, this time with a blanket draped over Sophia’s lap. He reached for the cooler and pulled out two bottles of beer. He opened both, handing one to Sophia, watching as she took a sip.
Beyond them, the lake was a mirror, reflecting the crescent moon and the stars overhead. In the distance, on the other side of the lake, the cattle congregated near the bank were huddled together, their white chests flashing in the darkness. Every now and then one of them mooed and the noise floated across the water, mingling with the sounds of frogs and crickets. It smelled of grass and dirt and the earth itself, almost primordial.
“It’s beautiful here,” Sophia whispered.
He felt the same word could be used to describe her, but he kept his thoughts to himself.
“It’s like the clearing at the river,” she added. “Only more open.”
“Kind of,” he said. “But like I told you, I tend to go out there when I want to think about my dad. This place is where I come to think about other things.”
The water nearby was still and reflected the sky like a mirror. “Lots of things,” he said. “Life. Work. Relationships.”
She shot him a sidelong glance. “I thought you haven’t been in a lot of relationships.”
“That’s why I have to think about them.”
She giggled. “Relationships are tricky. Of course, I’m young and naive, so what do I know?”
“So if I was to ask you for advice…”
“I’d say there are better people out there to ask. Like your mom, maybe.”
“Maybe,” he said. “She got along pretty well with my dad. Especially after he gave up the rodeo circuit and was available to help out around the ranch. If he’d kept at it, I don’t know if they would have made it. It was too much for her to handle on her own, especially with me to take care of. I’m pretty sure she told him exactly that. So he stopped. And growing up, whenever I asked him about it, he’d just say that being married to my mom was more important than riding horses.”
“You sound proud of her.”
“I am,” he said. “Even though both my parents were hard workers, she’s the one who really built up the business. When she inherited it from my grandfather, the ranch was struggling. Cattle markets tend to fluctuate a lot, and some years, you don’t make much of anything. It was her idea to focus on the growing interest in organic beef. She was the one who’d get in the car and drive all over the state, leaving brochures and talking to restaurant owners. Without her, there would be no such thing as Collins Beef. To you, it might not mean much, but to high-end beef consumers in North
Carolina, it means something.”
Sophia took that in while she examined the farmhouse in the distance. “I’d like to meet her.”
“I’d bring you by now, but she’s probably already asleep.
She goes to bed pretty early. But I’ll be here on Sunday, if you’d like to come over.”
“I think you just want me to help you haul pumpkins.”
“I was thinking you could come by for dinner, actually. Like I said, during the day it’s pretty busy.”
“I’d like that, if you think your mom will be okay with that.”
“Sounds great,” she said. “By the way, where’s that maze you were talking about?”
“It’s near the pumpkin patch.”
She frowned. “Did we go there the other day?”
“No,” he said. “It’s actually closer to the main road, near the
“Why didn’t I notice it when we drove in?”
“I don’t know. Because it was dark, maybe?”
“Is it a scary maze? With spooky scarecrows and spiders and all that?”
“Of course, but it’s not really spooky. It’s mainly for little kids. One time, my dad went a little overboard and a few of the kids ended up crying. Since then, we try to keep it toned down. But there are a ton of decorations in there. Spiders, ghosts,
scarecrows. Friendly-looking ones.”
“Can we go?”
“Of course. I’ll be happy to show you. But keep in mind it’s not the same for big people, since you can see over the bales.” He waved away a couple of gnats. “You didn’t really answer my earlier question, by the way.”
“About relationships,” he said.
She adjusted the blanket again. “I used to think I understood the basics. I mean, my mom and dad have been married for a long time and I thought I knew what I was doing. But I guess I didn’t learn the most important part.”
“Choosing well in the first place.”
“How do you know if you’re choosing well?”
“Well…,” she hedged. “That’s where it starts getting tricky. But if I had to guess, I think it starts with having things in common. Like values. For instance, I thought it important that Brian be faithful. He was obviously operating under a different value system.”
“At least you can joke about it.”
“It’s easy to joke when you don’t care anymore. I’m not saying it didn’t hurt me, because it did. Last spring, after I found out he hooked up with another girl, I couldn’t eat for weeks. I probably lost fifteen pounds.”
“You don’t have fifteen pounds to lose.”
“I know, but what could I do? Some people eat when they get stressed. I’m the other kind. And when I got home last summer, my mom and dad were panicked. They begged me to eat every time I turned around. I still haven’t regained all the weight I lost. Of course, it hasn’t been easy to eat since school started back up, either.”
“I’m glad you ate with me, then.”
“You don’t stress me out.”
“Even though we don’t have a lot in common?”
As soon as he said it, he worried that she would hear the undercurrent of concern, but she didn’t seem to detect it.
“We have more things in common than you’d think. In some ways, our parents were pretty similar. They were married for a long time, worked in a struggling family business, and expected the kids to chip in. My parents wanted me to do well in school, your dad wanted you to be a champion bull rider, and we both fulfilled their expectations. We’re both products of our upbringing, and I’m not sure that’s ever going to change.”
Surprising himself, he felt a strange sense of relief at her answer. “You ready to check out that maze yet?”
“How about if we finish our beers first. It’s too nice out here to leave just yet.”
As they slowly drained their bottles, they chatted idly and watched the moonlight trace a path across the water. Though he felt the urge to kiss her again, he resisted it. Instead, he reflected on what she’d said earlier, about their similarities, thinking she was right and hoping that it was enough to keep her coming back to the ranch.
After a while their conversation lapsed into a peaceful lull, and he realized he had no idea what she was thinking. Instinctively, he reached toward the blanket. She seemed to realize what he was doing and wordlessly held his hand.
The night air was turning crisper, giving the stars a crystalline cast. He looked up at them, then over to her, and when her thumb gently began to trace the contours of his hand, he responded in kind. In that instant, he knew with certainty that he was already falling for her and that there was nothing on earth he could do to stop it.
As they strolled through the pumpkin patch toward the maze, Luke continued to hold her hand. Somehow, this simple gesture felt more significant than their earlier kisses, more permanent somehow. He could imagine holding it years into the future, whenever they were walking together, and the realization startled him.
“What are you thinking about?”
He walked a few paces before answering. “A lot of things,” he finally said.
“Did anyone ever tell you that you have a tendency to be vague?”
“Does it bother you?” he countered.
“I haven’t decided yet,” she said, squeezing his hand. “I’ll let you know.”
“The maze is right over there.” He pointed. “But I wanted to show you the pumpkin patch first.”
“Can I pick one?”
“Will you help me carve it for Halloween?”
“We can carve it after dinner. And just so you know, I’m kind of an expert.”
“I’ve already carved fifteen or twenty this week. Scary ones, happy ones, all kinds.”
She gave him an appraising look. “You are obviously a man of many talents.”
He knew she was teasing him, but he liked it. “Thanks.”
“I can’t wait to meet your mom.”
“You’ll like her.”
“What’s she like?”
“Let’s just say that you shouldn’t expect a lady in a flowered dress and pearls. Think more… jeans and boots with straw in her hair.”
Sophia smiled. “Got it. Anything else I should know?”
“My mom would have been a great pioneer. When something has to be done, she just does it, and she expects the same from me.
She’s kind of no-nonsense. And she’s tough.”
“I would think so. It’s not an easy life out here.”
“I mean, she’s really tough. Ignores pain, never complains, doesn’t whine or cry. Three years ago, she broke her wrist falling off a horse. So what did she do? She said nothing, worked the rest of the day, cooked dinner, and then afterwards, she drove herself to the hospital. I didn’t know a thing about it until I noticed her cast the next day.”