Материалы к занятию
Linda leaned forward and patted the top of her hand. “It’s hard, but keep in mind that it happens to almost every family. Kids move away from their parents, brothers and sisters drift apart because life gets in the way. But then often, after a while, they get closer again. The same thing happened to Drake and his brother…”
“My late husband,” she said. “Luke’s father. He and his brother were close, and then when Drake went on the circuit, they barely talked for years. Later, though, after Drake retired, they started growing close again. That’s the difference between family and friends. Family is always there, no matter what, even when it’s not right next door. Which means that you’ll find a way to keep the connection alive. Especially since you realize how important it is.”
“I do,” Sophia said
Linda sighed. “I always wanted brothers and sisters,” she confessed. “I always thought it would be fun. Having someone to play with, someone to talk to. I used to ask my mom about it all the time and she’d just say, ‘We’ll see.’ What I didn’t know until I was older was that my mom had a series of miscarriages and…” Her voice faltered before she went on. “She just couldn’t have any more. Sometimes, things just don’t work out the way you want them to.”
As she said it, Sophia had the distinct feeling that Linda might have suffered some miscarriages as well. As soon as she realized it, however, Linda slid her chair back, obviously ending the subject. “I’m going to cut up some tomatoes for the salad,” she announced. “The steaks should be ready any minute.”
“Do you need some help?”
“You could help me set the table,” she agreed. “The plates are there, and utensils are in the drawer over there,” she said, pointing.
Sophia retrieved them and finished setting the table. Linda diced tomatoes and cucumbers and shredded the lettuce, then tossed everything together in a brightly colored bowl just as Luke returned with the steaks.
“We need to let these sit for a couple of minutes,” Luke said, putting the platter of steaks on the table.
“Perfect timing,” his mom said. “Let me just get the beans and potatoes in bowls, and dinner will be ready.”
Luke took a seat. “So what were y’all talking about in here? From outside, I got the sense that you two were knee-deep in serious conversation.”
“We were talking about you,” his mom said, turning around, a bowl in each hand.
“I hope not,” he said. “I’m not that fascinating.”
“There’s always hope,” his mom quipped, making Sophia laugh.
Dinner passed easily, punctuated by laughter and stories. Sophia told them about some of the antics that went on at the sorority house—including the fact that the plumbing had to be replaced because too many girls were bulimic, which corroded the pipes—and Luke told a few stories about some of the more colorful events on tour, one of which included a friend—who went nameless—and a woman he picked up at the bar who turned out to be… not quite what he imagined. Linda regaled her with stories of Luke’s boyhood as well as some of his stunts from high school, none of which were too outrageous. Like many of the kids she’d known in high school, he’d gotten in trouble, but she also learned that he’d won the state championship in wrestling—in addition to the rodeo stuff—in both his junior and senior years. No wonder Brian hadn’t intimidated him.
Through it all, Sophia watched and listened, Marcia’s warnings becoming fainter with every passing minute. Having dinner with Linda and Luke was easy. They listened and talked in the same informal, spirited way her own family did—entirely different from the socially self-conscious interactions at Wake.
When they’d finished their meal, Linda served the pie she’d baked, which was just about the best thing Sophia had ever tasted. Afterward, the three of them cleaned up the kitchen, Luke washing the dishes while Sophia dried and Linda wrapped the extra food and put it away.
The pattern was so comfortingly similar to what went on back home, making Sophia think about her own family, and for the first time she wondered what her parents would think of Luke.
On the way out the door, Sophia hugged Linda, as did Luke, Sophia noticing again the muscle definition on her arms as she squeezed. When she pulled back, Linda winked. “I know you two are going to go visit, but just remember that Sophia’s got school tomorrow. You don’t want her up too late. And you yourself have an early day.”
“I always have an early day.”
“You slept in this morning, remember?” Then she turned to Sophia. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Sophia. Come by again soon, okay?”
“I will,” Sophia promised.
As Luke and Sophia walked into the cold night air, the fog, even thicker now, had given the landscape a dreamlike quality. Sophia’s breaths came out in little puffs, and she looped her arm through Luke’s as they made their way to his house.
“I like your mom,” she said. “And she wasn’t at all like I imagined, based on how you described her.”
“What did you imagine?”
“I thought I’d be afraid of her, I guess. Or that she wouldn’t show any emotion at all. I don’t meet many people who ignore a broken wrist all day.”
“She was on her best behavior,” Luke explained. “Trust me. She’s not always like that.”
“Like when she’s angry with you.”
“Like when she’s angry with me,” he agreed. “And other times, too. If you watch her dealing with suppliers or when the cattle go to market or whatever, she can be pretty ruthless.”
“So you say. I think she’s sweet and smart and funny.”
“I’m glad. She liked you, too. I could tell.”
“She didn’t make you cry.”
She nudged him. “You be nice to your mom or I’ll turn right around and tell her what you’re saying about her.”
“I am nice to my mom.”
“Not always,” she said, half-teasing, half-prodding. “Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been mad at you.”
When they arrived at his house, he invited her inside for the first time. He went first to the fireplace in the living room, where split wood and kindling were already stacked on the grate. After taking a pack of matches from the mantel, he squatted down to light the kindling.
While he worked on getting the fire going, Sophia’s gaze wandered from the living room to the kitchen, taking in her eclectic surroundings. Low-slung brown leather couches with modern lines were coupled with a rustic coffee table on a cow-skin rug. Mismatched end tables supported matching wrought-iron lamps. Above the fireplace, an antlered buck’s head poked out from the wall. The room was functional and unpretentious, devoid of trophies or awards or laminated articles. Though she spotted a few photos of Luke riding bulls, they were sandwiched between more traditional photos: one of his mom and dad on what she guessed was an anniversary; another photo of a younger Luke and his father holding a fish they’d caught; a photo of his mom and one of the horses, his mom smiling into the camera.
Off to the side, the kitchen was harder to read. Like his mom’s, it featured a table in the center of the room, but the maple cabinets and counters showed little wear. In the opposite direction, the short hallway off the living room led to a bathroom and what she suspected were the bedrooms.
With the fire beginning to blaze, Luke stood and brushed his hands against his jeans.
She walked toward the fireplace. “It feels toasty.”
They stood in front of the fire, letting it warm them, before finally moving to the couch. Sitting next to Luke, she could feel him watching her. “Can I ask you a question?” Luke said.
He hesitated. “Are you okay?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I don’t know. When you got here earlier, it seemed like something was bothering you.”
For a moment Sophia said nothing, unsure whether or not to answer. Finally she decided, Why not? and she reached over, lifting his wrist. Knowing what she wanted, he slipped his arm over her shoulder, allowing her to lean against him.
“It was just something Marcia said.”
“Not really. It was more about me. She thinks we’re moving a little fast, and that I’m not emotionally ready for that. She’s convinced I’m on the rebound.”
He pulled back to study her. “Are you?”
“I have no idea,” she admitted. “This is all new to me.”
He laughed before growing more serious. He pulled her close again and kissed her hair. “Yeah, well, if it makes you feel better, all this is new to me, too.”
As the evening wore on, they sat in front of the fire, talking quietly in the familiar way they had since they’d first met. Every now and then the fire made the wood snap, sending sparks up the fireplace, lending the room a cozy, intimate glow.
Sophia reflected that spending time with Luke not only was easy, but felt indefinably right. With him, she could be herself; it felt as though she could say anything to him and that he would intuitively understand. With their bodies nestled close, she felt a sense of wonder at how effortlessly they seemed to fit together.
It hadn’t been like that with Brian. With Brian, she’d always worried that she wasn’t quite good enough; worse, she’d sometimes doubted whether she really knew him. She’d always sensed he put on a facade of sorts, one she’d never been able to breach. She’d assumed that it had been she who was doing something wrong, unintentionally creating barriers between them. With Luke, however, it wasn’t that way. She already felt as if she’d known him most of her life, and their immediate ease made her realize what she’d been missing.
As the fire burned steadily, Marcia’s words continued to fade from her thoughts, until she no longer heard them at all. Whether or not things were moving too fast, she liked Luke and she enjoyed every minute she spent with him. She wasn’t in love with him, but as she felt the gentle rise and fall of his chest, she found it strangely easy to imagine that her feelings might soon begin to change.
Later, when they moved to the kitchen to carve her pumpkin, she felt a distinct pang of regret that the evening was already coming to an end. She stood beside Luke, watching with rapt attention as he slowly but surely brought the jack-o’-lantern to life, the pattern more intricate than the ones she’d always made as a child. On the counter were knives of varying sizes, each with its own use, and she watched as he etched the pumpkin’s grin by carving away the outer shell only, forming what appeared to be lips and teeth. Every now and then he would lean back, assessing his work. The eyes came next; again he carved away the shell, sculpting detailed pupils before carefully cutting away the rest. He grimaced as he reached into the pumpkin to pull out the pieces.
“I’ve always hated that slimy feeling,” he said, making her giggle. At last, he handed her the knife, asking if she wanted to take over.
Luke showed her where to cut next, explaining what he wanted her to do, the warmth of his body pressed against her making her hands tremble. Somehow, the jack-o’-lantern nose turned out fine, but one of the eyebrows ended up crooked, which added a touch of insanity to its expression.
When the carving was completed, Luke inserted a small tea candle and lit it, then carried the pumpkin out to the porch. They sat in the porch rockers, talking quietly again as the glowing pumpkin grinned in approval. When Luke scooted his chair closer, it was easy for her to picture them sitting together on a thousand other nights like this one. Later, when he walked her to the car, she had the sense that he’d been imagining exactly the same thing. After putting the pumpkin on the passenger seat, he reached for her hand and gently pulled her close. She could sense the desire in his expression; she could feel in his embrace how much he wanted her to stay; and when their lips came together, she knew she wanted to stay as well. But she wouldn’t. Not tonight. She wasn’t ready for that just yet, but she felt in those hungry last kisses the promise of a future that she could barely wait to begin.