The Longest Ride. Занятие 31

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They stayed inside only long enough for Sophia to put a few items in the refrigerator and notice the claw-foot tub in the bathroom, yet her initial impression was one of fraying but pleasant hominess, a perfectly cozy overnight getaway. Meanwhile, Luke busied himself making sandwiches to go with the fruit and chips and bottles of water he’d picked up from the store.


Luke packed their lunches in the saddlebags before they started off on one of the dozen trails that crisscrossed the property. As usual, he rode Horse and she was once more on Demon, whom she couldn’t help thinking was slowly but surely getting used to her. He’d nuzzled her hand and nickered contentedly while Luke saddled him, and though it might have been because he was in an unfamiliar place, only the slightest touch of the reins was necessary to direct him.


The trail climbed ahead of them, weaving among trees that were so thick in some places, she doubted anyone had ever passed through before. At other times the trail opened up into the kind of expansive vista that she had seen only on postcards. They rode through lush green meadows of tall grass, and Sophia tried to picture them filled with wildflowers and butterflies every summer. She was grateful for her jacket and cowboy hat, as the trees kept most of the trail in shadow and the air was brisk as they rose to higher elevations.


Where the trail was too narrow to ride side by side, Luke motioned for her to take the lead, sometimes lagging a little behind. In those moments, she imagined that she was a settler gradually making her way out west, alone in a vast, unspoiled landscape.


They rode for a couple of hours before stopping for lunch at a clearing near the top. At the clearing’s lookout, they sat on boulders and ate, watching a pair of hawks circling the valley below. After lunch, they followed the trail for another three hours on horseback, sometimes on tracks that ran to the edge of steep precipices, the danger heightening Sophia’s senses.


They made it back to the cabin an hour before sundown and brushed down the horses before feeding each of them some apples along with their regular feed. By the time they finished, the moon had begun to rise, full-bodied and milky white, and the first stars were emerging.


“I think I’m in the mood for a bath before we eat,” she said.


“Would you mind if I hopped in the shower first?”


“As long as you promise not to use all the hot water.”


“I’ll be fast. I promise.”


Leaving the bathroom to Luke, she entered the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Inside was a bottle of Chardonnay along with a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale they’d picked up earlier, and she debated which one she wanted before searching through the drawers for the corkscrew.


There were no wineglasses in the cabinet, but she did find a jelly jar. It would have to do. She opened the wine bottle with a practiced motion and poured some into the jar.


Swirling the Chardonnay around in her jelly jar, she felt almost like a kid playing at being a grown-up. Come to think of it, she often felt that way, even though she was about to graduate from college. She’d never had to rent an apartment, for example. She’d never really worked for anyone other than her family. She’d never had to pay an electric bill, and even though she’d moved away, Wake wasn’t real life. College wasn’t real life. It was a fantasy world, she knew, entirely different from the world she would face in just a few months. Her classes, unlike work, started at ten in the morning and usually finished up around two. Nights and weekends, meanwhile, were devoted almost entirely to fun and socializing and defying boundaries. It had absolutely nothing in common with the lives her parents led, at least as far as she could tell.


As fun as college had been, she sometimes couldn’t help feeling that her life had been on hold for the last few years. It wasn’t until she’d met Luke that she realized how little she had really learned at school.


Unlike her, Luke seemed like an adult. He hadn’t gone to college, but he understood real life: people and relationships and work. He’d been one of the best in the world at something—bull riding—and she had no doubt he would be again. He could fix anything, and he’d built his own house. By any measure, he had mastered many things in life already, and right now, it struck her as inconceivable that she would be able to claim as much—even in entirely different areas—over the next three years. Who knew if she’d even be able to get a job in her chosen field, one that actually paid her


All she really knew was that she was here with Luke, and that spending time with him made her feel like she was finally, truly, moving forward somehow. Because whatever they had between them was based in the real world, not the fantasy bubble of college life. Luke was as real as anyone she’d ever met.


She heard the water shut off with a thump in the pipes, breaking the thread of her thoughts. Carrying her jelly jar of wine with her, she took a tour of the cabin. The kitchen was small and functional, with inexpensive cabinets. Though the countertop was peeling and rusty rings stained the sink, it smelled of Lysol and bleach. The floors had been recently swept, and the surfaces were dust-free.


The small living area sported scuffed pine flooring and cedar wall planking with just enough room for a frayed plaid couch and a pair of rocking chairs. Blue curtains framed the window, and a single lamp stood in the corner. Sophia crossed the room to turn it on, only to discover that it was no brighter than the single bulb in the kitchen had been. Which no doubt explained the candles and matches on the coffee table. On a shelf opposite the windows lay a random assortment of books that she guessed had been left behind by other visitors, some hunting decoys—ducks—and a stuffed squirrel. A small television with rabbit-ear antennas sat in the center of the shelf, and though she didn’t bother to turn it on, she doubted it received more than one or two channels, if that.


She heard the water come on again and when the bathroom door squeaked open, Luke stepped out, looking clean and fresh in jeans and a white button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He was barefoot, and he looked as though he’d raked his fingers through his wet hair rather than using a comb. From across the room, she could see a small white scar on his cheek, one she’d never noticed before.


“It’s all yours,” he said. “I’ve already got the water going for you.”


“Thank you,” she said. She kissed him briefly as she passed him. “I’ll probably be thirty or forty minutes.”


“Take your time. I’ve got to get dinner going anyway.”


“Another specialty?” she called from the bedroom, where she scooped up her overnight bag.


“I like it.”


“Does anyone else?”


“That’s a good question. I guess we’ll find out soon, huh?”


As promised, the water was already filling in the tub. It was hotter than she’d expected, and she turned the other faucet, trying to cool it a bit, wishing for some bubble bath or scented baby oil.


She undressed, conscious of the soreness in her legs and lower back. She hoped she wouldn’t be too stiff to walk tomorrow. Reaching for her wine, she slipped into the water, feeling luxurious despite her modest surroundings.


The bathroom had a small separate shower stall, and Luke had slung his used towel over the rod. The fact that he’d been naked in here only a few minutes earlier made something flutter in her lower belly.


She’d known what might happen this weekend. For the first time, they wouldn’t say good-bye near her car; tonight, she wouldn’t return to the sorority house. But being with Luke felt natural. It felt right, even if she admitted to herself she wasn’t all that experienced in these kinds of things. Brian had been the first and only guy she’d ever slept with. It had happened at the Christmas formal, when they’d already been dating for two months. She hadn’t known it would happen that night, but like everyone else, she was having fun and probably drinking too much, and when he brought her up to the room, they ended up making out on the bed. Brian was insistent, the room was spinning, and one thing led to the next.


In the morning, she wasn’t sure quite what to think about it. Nor was Brian there to help her—she vaguely remembered him talking to some friends the night before about having Bloody Marys in one of their rooms the next morning. She stumbled to the shower with a headache the size of Wisconsin, and as the spray ricocheted off her, a million thoughts raced through her head. She was relieved to have finally done it— like everyone else, she’d wondered what it would be like—and was glad it had been with Brian, in a bed, as opposed to a backseat or something equally awkward. But for some reason, it also felt a little sad. She could imagine what her mom would think—or, God forbid, her dad—and frankly, she’d thought herself that it would be more… something. Meaningful. Romantic. Memorable. But really, what she wanted most of all just then was to head back to campus.


After that, Brian was like most guys, she supposed. Whenever they were alone, he wanted something physical, and for a while, she supposed she did, too. But then it began to feel as if it were all he ever wanted, and that began to bother her, even before he’d cheated on her.


And now here she was, alone with a guy overnight for the first time since Brian. She wondered why she wasn’t nervous, but she wasn’t. Instead, she soaped up the washcloth and ran it over her skin, imagining what Luke was doing in the kitchen. She wondered if he was thinking about her as she soaked in the tub, maybe even picturing what she looked like without clothing, and again, she felt a flutter in her lower belly.


She wanted this, she realized. She wanted to fall in love with someone she could trust. And she trusted Luke. Never once had he pressed her to do something she hadn’t wanted; never once had he been anything less than a perfect gentleman. The more time she’d spent with him, the more convinced she became that he was by far the sexiest guy she’d ever met. Who else did she know who could work with his hands the way he did? Who could make her laugh? Who was smart and charming, self-reliant and tender? And who else would take her horseback riding in one of the most beautiful places in the world?


Soaking in the tub and sipping wine, she felt for the first time older than her years. She finished her wine, feeling warm and relaxed, and when the water began to cool, she climbed out of the tub and toweled off. She sorted through her bag, intending to throw on a pair of jeans, but then realized that it was all she ever wore when they were together. Changing her mind, she pulled out a skirt and a tight, form-fitting blouse and slipped them on. She styled her hair, feeling pleased that she’d remembered to bring both the curling iron and the dryer. Makeup came next; she added a touch more mascara and eye shadow than she usually did, wiping the old mirror more than once to clear away the steam. She completed the outfit with a pair of gold hoop earrings that her mother had bought her for Christmas last year. When she was done, she looked herself over one more time, then with a deep breath she picked up the empty jelly jar and stepped into the hallway. Luke stood in the kitchen, his back to her as he stirred a pot on the stove. On the counter next to him was a box of crackers and a beer, and she watched as he reached for the bottle, taking a long pull.


He hadn’t heard her leave the bathroom, and for a while she simply watched him in silence, admiring the fit of his jeans and his smooth, unhurried actions as he cooked. Quietly, she moved toward the end table and bent down to light the candles. She stood back to survey the scene, then stepped over to turn off the lamp. The room darkened, becoming more intimate, the small candle flames flickering.


Luke, noticing the change in light, glanced over his shoulder. “Oh, hey,” he called out as she approached. “I didn’t realize you were finished…”


He trailed off as she emerged from the shadows into the soft yellow light of the kitchen. For a long moment, he drank in the sight of her, recognizing the hope and desire in the eyes that held his own.


“Sophia,” he whispered, the sound so soft that she barely heard it. But in her name, she could hear everything he hadn’t been able to say, and she knew in that moment that he was truly in love with her. And perhaps it was an illusion, but she also felt in that instant that he always would be, no matter what happened, with everything he had to give.


“I’m sorry for staring,” Luke said. “You just look so beautiful…”


She smiled as she continued to approach him, and when he leaned in to kiss her, she knew then that if she hadn’t been in love with him before, she was surely in love with him now.

About the Author

Диана Семёнычева

Диана Семёнычева