The Longest Ride. Занятие 23

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Sophia stepped over some wayward vines, careful not to damage any of the pumpkins. “Remind me to be on my best manners.”


“You’ll be fine. She’ll like you. You two are more alike than you’d think.”


When she glanced over at him, he went on. “She’s smart,” he said. “Believe it or not, she was valedictorian of her high school class, and even now she reads, does all the bookkeeping, and stays on top of the business. She’s opinionated, but she expects more from herself than from others. If she had one weakness, it was that she was a sucker for guys in cowboy hats.”


She laughed. “Is that what I am? A sucker for cowboys?”


“I don’t know. Are you?”


She didn’t answer. “Your mom sounds pretty amazing.”


“I don’t know. Are you?”


She didn’t answer. “Your mom sounds pretty amazing.”


“She is,” he said. “And who knows, maybe if she’s in one of her moods, she’ll tell you one of her stories. My mom is big on stories.”


“Stories about what?”


“Anything, really. But they always make me think.”


“Tell me one,” she said.


He stopped and then squatted down near an oversize pumpkin. “All right,” he said as he shifted the pumpkin from one


side to the other. “After I won the High School National Championship in Rodeo—”


“Wait…,” she said, cutting him off. “Before you go on… they have rodeo in high school here?”


“They have it everywhere. Why?”


“Not in New Jersey.”


“Of course they do. Contestants come from every state. You just have to be in high school.”


“And you won?”


“Yes, but that’s not the point,” he said, standing up and taking her hand again. “I was trying to tell you that after I won— the first time, not the second time,” he teased, “I was jabbering on about my goals and what I wanted to do, and of course, my dad was just lapping it up. But my mom started to clear the table, and after a while she interrupted my grand fantasy to tell me a story… and it’s stayed with me ever since.”


“What did she say?”


“A young man lives in a tiny, run-down cottage on the beach and he rows his boat out into the ocean every day to fish, not only because he needs to eat, but because he feels peaceful on the water. But more than that, he also wants to improve his life and that of his family, so he works hard at bringing in bigger and bigger catches. With his earnings, he eventually buys a bigger boat so he can make his business even more profitable. That leads to a third boat and then a fourth boat, and as the years pass and the business continues to grow, he eventually accumulates a whole fleet of boats. By then, he’s rich and successful, with a big house and a thriving business, but the stress and pressure of running the company eventually take their toll. He realizes that when he retires, what he really wants more than anything is to live in a tiny cottage on the beach, where he can fish all day in a rowboat… because he wants to feel the same sense of peace and satisfaction he experienced when he was young.”


She cocked her head. “Your mom’s a wise woman. There’s a lot of truth in that story.”


“Do you think so?”


“I think,” she said, “that the point is that people rarely understand that nothing is ever exactly what you think it will be.”


By then, they’d reached the entrance to the maze. Luke led her through, pointing out openings that dead-ended after a series of turns and others that led much farther. The maze covered nearly an acre, which made it a huge draw for kids.


When they reached the exit, they strolled toward the harvested pumpkins. While many had been placed up front, some were stacked in bins, others clustered together in loose piles. Hundreds remained in the field beyond.


“That’s it,” he said.


“It’s a lot. How long did it take you to set all this up?”


“Three days. But we had other things to do, too.”


“Of course you did.”


She sorted through the pumpkins, eventually picking out a medium-size one and handing it to Luke before they walked back to the truck, where he loaded it into the bed.


When he turned, Sophia was standing in front of him, her thick blond hair almost whitish in the starlight.


Instinctively, he reached first for one hand and then the other, and the words came out before he could stop them.


“I feel like I want to know everything about you,” he murmured.


“You know me better than you think,” she said. “I’ve told you about my family and childhood, I’ve told you about college and what I want to do with my life. There’s not much else to know.”


But there was. There was so much more, and he wanted to know everything.


“Why are you here?” he whispered.


She wasn’t sure what he meant. “Because you brought me here?”


“I mean why are you with me?” “Because I want to be here.”


“I’m glad,” he said


“Yeah? Why?”


“Because you’re smart. And interesting.”


Her head was tilted up, her expression inviting. “The last time you called me interesting, you ended up kissing me.”


He said nothing to that. Instead, leaning in, he watched her eyes slowly close, and when their lips came together, he felt a sense of discovery, like an explorer finally reaching distant shores he’d only imagined or heard about. He kissed her again and then again, and when he pulled back, he rested his forehead against hers. He drew a deep breath, struggling to keep his emotions in check, knowing that he didn’t love her simply in the here and now, but that he would never stop loving her.

Chapter 11, Part 1


It is now Sunday afternoon, and once it gets dark, I will have been here for more than twenty-four hours. The pain continues to wax and wane, but my legs and feet have gone numb from the cold. My face, where it rests against the steering wheel, has begun to ache; I can feel the bruises forming. My greatest torment, however, has become thirst. The thought of water is excruciating, my throat prickling with each breath. My lips are as dry and cracked as a drought-stricken field.


Water, I think again. Without it, I will die. I need it and can hear it calling to me.


Water. Water. Water.


The thought won’t leave me, blocking out everything else. I have never in my life craved such a simple thing; I have never in my life spent hours wondering how to get it. And I do not need much. Just a little. Even a capful will make all the difference in the world. A single drop will make a difference.


Yet I remain paralyzed. I don’t know where the bottle of water is, and I’m not sure I’d be able to open it even if I could find it. I’m afraid that if I unbuckle the seat belt, I might topple forward, too weak to stop my collarbone from smashing into the steering wheel. I might end up crumpled on the floor of the car, wedged into a position from which I can’t escape. I can’t even imagine lifting my head from the steering wheel, let alone rummaging through the car.


And still, my need for water calls to me. Its call is constant and insistent, and desperation sets in. I am going to die of thirst, I think to myself. I am going to die here, as I am. And there is no way I will ever get to the backseat. The paramedics will not slide me out like a fish stick.


“You have a morbid sense of humor,” Ruth says, interrupting my thoughts, and I remind myself that she is nothing but a dream.


“I think the situation calls for it, don’t you?”


“You are still alive.”


“Yes, but for how much longer?”


“The record is sixty-four days. A man in Sweden. I saw it on the Weather Channel.”


“No. I saw it on the Weather Channel.”


She shrugs. “It is the same thing, yes?”


She has a point, I think. “I need water.”


“No,” she says. “Right now, we need to talk. It will keep your mind from fixating on it.”


“Like a trick,” I say.


“I am not a trick,” she says. “I am your wife. And I want you to listen to me.”


I obey. Staring at her, I allow myself to drift again. My eyes finally close and I feel as if I’m floating downstream in a river.


Images coming and going, one right after the other as I am carried past on the current.


Drifting. Drifting.


And then, finally, it solidifies into something real.


In the car, I open my eyes and blink, noticing how Ruth has changed from my last vision of her. But this memory, unlike the others, is sharp-edged and clear to me. She is as she was in June of 1946. I am certain of this, because it is the first time I’ve ever seen her wear a casual summer dress. She, like everyone else after the war, is changing. Clothes are changing. Later this year, the bikini will be invented by Louis Réard, a French engineer, and as I stare at Ruth, I notice a sinuous beauty in the muscles of her arms. Her skin is a smooth walnut hue from the weeks she’d just spent at the beach with her parents. Her father had taken the family to the Outer Banks to celebrate his official hiring at Duke. He had interviewed at a number of different places, including a small experimental art college in the mountains, but he felt most at home among the Gothic buildings at Duke. He would be teaching again that fall, a bright spot in what had otherwise been a difficult year of mourning.


Things had changed between Ruth and me since that night in the park. Ruth had said little about my revelation, but when I walked her home I didn’t try to kiss her good night. I knew she was reeling, and even she would later admit that she was not herself for the next few weeks. The next time I saw her she was no longer wearing her engagement ring, but I didn’t blame her for this.


She was in shock, but she was also rightfully angry that I had not trusted her with the information until that night. Coming on the heels of the loss of her family in Vienna, it was undoubtedly a terrible blow. For it is one thing to declare one’s love for someone and quite another to accept that loving that person requires sacrificing one’s dreams. And having children—creating a family, so to speak—had taken on an entirely new significance for her in the wake of her family’s losses.


I understood this intuitively, and for the next couple of months, neither of us pressed the other. We didn’t speak of commitment, but we continued to see each other casually, perhaps two or three times a week. Sometimes I would take her to see a show or bring her to dinner, other times we would stroll downtown. There was an art gallery of which she’d grown particularly fond, and we visited regularly. Most of the artwork was unmemorable either in subject or in execution, but every now and then, Ruth would see something special in a painting that I could not. Like her father, she was most passionate about modern art, a movement given birth to by painters like Van Gogh, Cézanne, and Gauguin, and she was quick to discern the influence of these painters in even the mediocre work we examined.


These visits to the gallery, and her deep knowledge of art in general, opened up a world entirely foreign to me. However, I sometimes wondered whether our discussions about art became a means of avoiding conversation about our future. These discussions created a distance between us, but I was content to keep them going, longing even in those moments for both a forgiveness of the past and an acceptance of some kind of future for us, whatever that might be.


Ruth, however, seemed no closer to a decision than she’d been on that fateful night in the park. She wasn’t cold to me, but she hadn’t invited greater intimacy, either, and thus I was surprised when her parents invited me to spend part of their holiday at the beach with them.


A couple of weeks of quiet walks on the beach together might have been just what we needed, but unfortunately, it wasn’t possible for me to be gone that long. With my father glued to the radio in the back room, I had by then become the face of the shop, and it was busier than ever. Veterans looking for work were coming in to buy suits they could barely afford, in the hopes of finding a job. But companies were slow to hire, and when these desperate men walked in the store, I thought of Joe Torrey and Bud Ramsey and I did what I could for them. I convinced my father to stock lower-priced suits with fractional markups, and my mother did the alterations free of charge. Word of our reasonable prices had gotten out, and though we were no longer open on Saturdays, sales were increasing every month.


Nonetheless, I was able to persuade my parents to lend me the car in order to visit Ruth’s family toward the end of their vacation, and by Thursday morning, I was on the road. It was a long drive, the last hour of which was spent driving on the sand itself. There was a wild, untamed beauty to the Outer Banks in the years right after the war. Largely cut off from the rest of the state, it was populated by families who’d lived there for generations, making their living from the sea. Saw grass speckled the windblown dunes, and the trees looked like the twisted clay creations of a child. Here and there I saw wild horses, their heads sometimes rising as I passed, tails swishing to keep the flies at bay. With the ocean roaring on one side and the windswept dunes on the other, I rolled down the windows, taking it all in and wondering what I might find when I reached my destination.

About the Author

Диана Семёнычева

Диана Семёнычева