The Longest Ride. Занятие 32

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After the kiss she felt unsettled, and she sensed that Luke did as well. He turned around, lowering the flame beneath the burner, and reached for his beer, only to realize that he’d finished it. He set it beside the sink and went to the refrigerator to get another when he noticed the jelly jar she was holding.


“Would you like some more wine?” he asked.


She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, and handed him the glass. Their fingers brushed, sending a pleasant jolt through her hand. He pulled out the cork and poured some wine into the jelly jar.


“We could eat now if you’d like,” he said, handing it back to her and recorking the bottle. “But it’ll taste better if we let it simmer for another half hour. I sliced up some of the cheese we bought earlier if you’re hungry.”


“Sounds good,” she said. “Let’s sit on the couch, though.”


He replaced the wine and pulled out a second beer for himself, then picked up the plate of cheese. He’d added grapes to the plate and reached for the box of crackers on the counter as he followed her to the couch.


He put the food on the end table but held his beer as they took a seat next to each other. Luke opened one arm wide as she leaned into him, her back snug against his chest. She felt his arm go around her, just below her breasts, and she rested her arm on top of his. She could feel the rise and fall of his chest, his steady breaths, as the candles burned lower.


“It’s so quiet up here,” she remarked as he shifted his beer to the end table and wrapped his other arm around her as well. “I can’t hear anything outside at all.”


“You’ll probably hear the horses later,” he said. “They’re not the quietest animals and they’re right outside the bedroom. And sometimes, raccoons get onto the porch and they’ll knock all sorts of stuff over.”


“Why did you stop coming here?” she asked. “Was it because of your dad?”


When Luke spoke, his voice was subdued. “After my dad died, a lot of things changed. My mom was alone, and I was traveling on the circuit. When I was home, it always felt like we were so far behind… but I guess that’s really an excuse. For my mom, this was their place. I’d spend so much time outside riding and swimming and playing that I’d just collapse in bed right after dinner. My mom and dad would have the place to themselves. Later, when I was in high school, they used to sometimes come up here without me… but now, she doesn’t want to come. I’ve asked, but she just shakes her head. I think she wants to remember this place like it used to be. When he was still with us.”


She took another sip of wine. “I was thinking earlier about how much you’ve been through. In some ways, it’s like you’ve lived a full life already.”


“I hope not,” he said. “I’d hate for you to think I’m over the hill.”


She smiled, conscious of the contact between her body and his, trying not to think about what might come later.


“Do you remember the first night we met? When we talked and you took me out to show me the bulls?”


“Of course.”


“Could you ever have imagined that we’d end up here?”


He reached out for his beer and took a sip before resting it on the couch beside her. She could feel the chill from the bottle near her thigh. “At the time, I was just surprised you were talking to me at all.”


“Why would you be surprised?”


He kissed her hair. “Do you really have to ask? You’re perfect.”


“I’m not perfect,” she protested. “I’m far from it.” She swirled the wine in her jar. “Just ask Brian.”


“What happened with him had nothing to do with you.”


“Maybe not,” she said. “But…”


Luke said nothing, allowing her time to consider what she was going to say. She turned, looking directly at him.


“I told you that last spring I was a wreck, right? And that I lost a lot of weight because I couldn’t eat?”


“You told me.”


“All that’s true. But I didn’t tell you that for a while there, I also thought about suicide. It wasn’t like I came close to actually doing anything about it; it was more like a concept, something that I latched on to, to feel better. I’d wake up and not care about anything and not be able to eat, and then I’d think that there was one sure way to stop the pain and that was to end it all. Even then, I knew it was crazy, and like I said, I never really thought I’d go through with it. But just knowing that the option was there made me feel like I still had some kind of control. And at the time, that’s what I needed more than anything. To think that I was in control. And little by little, I was able to pull myself together. That’s why, the next time Brian cheated on me, I was able to walk away.” She closed her eyes, the memory of those days passing like a shadow over her face. “You’re probably thinking you’ve made a big mistake right about now.”


“Not at all,” he said.


“Even if I’m crazy?”


“You’re not crazy. You said yourself you never really considered going through with it.”


“But why would I latch on to the idea? Why would I even think about it at all?”


“Do you still think about it?”


“Never,” she said. “Not since last spring.”


“Then I wouldn’t worry too much. You’re not the first person in the world to think about it. It’s a big leap from thinking to considering, and an even bigger leap to attempting.”


She weighed the comment, recognizing his point. “You’re being too logical about the whole thing.”


“That’s probably because I have no idea what I’m talking about.”


She squeezed his arm. “No one knows any of this, by the way. Not my mom or dad, or even Marcia.”


“I won’t tell,” he said. “But if it happens again, you might consider talking to someone a whole lot smarter than I am. Someone who would know what to tell you, maybe help you navigate the whole thing.”


“I plan on it. But hopefully it won’t happen again.”


They sat in silence, his body warm against hers. “I still think you’re perfect,” he offered, making her laugh.


“You’re a sweet talker,” she teased. She tilted her head up, kissing him on the cheek. “But can I ask you something?”


“Anything,” he answered.


“You said that your mom wanted to double the size of the herd and when I asked why, you said she didn’t have a choice. What does that mean?”


He traced a finger along the back of her hand. “It’s a long story.”


“That again? Then answer me this: Does it have anything to do with Big Ugly Critter?”


She felt his muscles tighten involuntarily, if only for an instant. “Why would you say that?”


“Call it a hunch,” she said. “You never finished that story either, so I just assumed they might be related.”


She hesitated. “I’m right, aren’t I?”


She felt him take a long breath and then release it slowly. “I thought I knew his tendencies,” Luke began, “and I did—at first.


Halfway through the ride, I made a mistake. I leaned too far forward just as Big Ugly Critter threw his head back and I was knocked unconscious. When I toppled off, Big Ugly Critter ended up dragging me around the arena. He dislocated my shoulder, but that wasn’t the worst of it.” Luke scratched at the stubble on his cheek, then continued, his voice matter-of-fact, almost distant. “As I lay there in the dirt, the bull came back at me. It was pretty bad. I ended up in the ICU for a while… but the doctors did amazing work and I got lucky. After I woke up, I recovered a lot faster than they thought I would. But I still had to stay in the hospital for a long time, and then there were months of rehab. And my mom…”


He trailed off, and though he was telling the story without emotion, Sophia could feel her own heart beginning to speed up as she tried to picture his injuries.


“My mom… she did what most moms would do, right? She did whatever she could to make sure I got the best care possible. But the thing is, I didn’t have health insurance—bull riders can’t really get it, because of how dangerous riding is. Or, at least, they couldn’t back then. The tour provides minimal coverage, but it was nowhere near enough to cover the cost of my hospital care. So my mom had to mortgage the ranch.” He paused, suddenly looking older than his years. “The terms weren’t great, and the rates are going to readjust next summer. And the ranch doesn’t have enough income to cover those upcoming loan payments. We can barely meet them now. We’ve been doing everything we can this past year to figure out how to squeeze some more money out of the place, but it’s just not working. We’re not even close.”


“What does that mean?”


“It means we’re going to have to sell it. Or in the end, the bank is going to take it. And this is the only life my mom knows. She built the business, and she’s lived on the ranch her entire life…” He let out a long exhale before going on. “She’s fifty-five years old. Where would she go? What would she do? Me, I’m young. I can go anywhere. But for her to lose everything? Because of me? I just can’t do that to her. I won’t.”


“Which is why you started riding again,” Sophia said.


“Yeah,” he admitted. “It’ll help cover the payments, and with a few good years, I can make a dent in what we owe, so that we can get the principal down to something manageable.”


Sophia brought her knees up. “Then why doesn’t she want you to ride?”


Luke seemed to choose his words carefully. “She doesn’t want me to get hurt again. But what other choice do I have? I don’t even want to ride anymore… it’s not the same for me. But I don’t know what else to do. As best I can figure, we can last until June, maybe July. And then…”


The guilt and anguish in his expression made her chest constrict.


“Maybe you’ll find that other pasture you need.”


“Maybe,” he said, sounding less than sure. “Anyway, that’s what’s going on with the ranch. It’s not all that pretty. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to bring you here. Because being here with you meant that I didn’t have to think about it. I didn’t have to worry. All I’ve done since I’ve been here is think about you and how glad I am that you’re with me.”


Just as he’d predicted, one of the horses outside let out a long neigh. The room was growing cooler, the cold mountain air seeping through the windows and the walls.


“I should probably check our dinner,” he said. “Make sure it’s not burning.”


With reluctance, Sophia sat up, letting Luke squeeze past. The guilt he felt at his role in jeopardizing the ranch was so genuine, so evident, that she found herself rising from the couch to follow. She needed him to know that she was here to comfort him, not because he needed her to, but because she wanted to. The love she felt for him altered everything, and she wanted him to feel that.


He was stirring the chili when she came up behind him and slipped her arms around his waist. He stood straighter and she squeezed him lightly before loosening her grip. He turned around and pulled her close. Their bodies came together then, and she leaned into him. For a long time, they simply held each other.


He felt so good to her. She could feel his heart beating in his chest, could hear the gentle rhythm of his breaths. She tucked her face into his neck, inhaling his scent, and as she did, she felt desire flooding her body in a way she had never experienced before. She slowly kissed his neck, listening to his rapid breath.


“I love you, Sophia,” he whispered.


“I love you, too, Luke,” she whispered back as his face inched closer to hers. Her only thought as they began to kiss was that this was the way it should always be, forever. Hesitant at first, their kisses became more passionate, and when she raised her eyes, she knew her desire was plain. She wanted all of him, more than she had ever wanted anyone, and after kissing him one more time, she reached behind him, turning off the burner. Without breaking his gaze, she reached for his hand and slowly began leading him to the bedroom.

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Диана Семёнычева

Диана Семёнычева