Материалы к занятию
The next few weeks were one of those rare and wonderful interludes in which almost everything made Sophia believe nothing could be better.
Her classes were stimulating, her grades were excellent, and even though she hadn’t heard from the Denver Art Museum, her adviser recommended her for an internship at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She would interview there over Christmas break. It wasn’t a paid position and she would probably have to commute from home if she got it, but it was MoMA. Never in her wildest dreams had she considered it a possibility.
In the limited time that she spent at the sorority house, she’d noticed that Marcia was developing a prance in her step—the same one she got whenever she’d focused on someone special. She was in a perpetually good mood, despite her denials that a guy had anything to do with it. At the same time, Mary-Kate had significantly reduced her responsibilities at the sorority—other than attending mandatory meetings, Sophia was for the most part exempt from sisterly obligations. Granted, this was probably the result of her own perfunctory attitude, but hey, whatever worked. Best of all, she hadn’t run into Brian around campus—nor had he texted or called—making it easy to forget they’d ever dated.
And then, of course, there was Luke.
For the first time, she felt she understood what loving someone really meant. Since their weekend in the cabin—aside from Thanksgiving, when she’d gone home to visit her family— they’d spent every Saturday night together at the ranch, mostly in each other’s arms. In between kisses, the feel of his bare skin electric against her own, she reveled in the sound of his voice telling her over and over how much he adored her and how much she’d come to mean to him. In the darkness, she would gently trace her finger over his scars, sometimes finding a new one that she hadn’t noticed before; they would talk until the early hours of the morning, pausing only to make love once more. The passion they felt for each other was intoxicating, something entirely different from what she’d felt with Brian. It was a connection that transcended the physical act. She’d grown to appreciate the quiet way Luke would slip from the bed first thing on Sunday mornings to feed the animals and check the cattle, trying his best not to wake her.
Usually she would doze again, only to be awakened later with a cup of hot coffee and his presence beside her. Sometimes they’d while away an hour or more on the porch or simply make breakfast together. Almost always they’d take the horses out, sometimes for an entire afternoon. The crisp winter air would turn her cheeks red and make her hands ache, yet in those moments she felt connected to Luke and the ranch in a way that made her wonder why it had taken her so long to find him.
As the holidays loomed closer, they would spend much of the weekend in the grove of Christmas trees. While Luke did the cutting, hauling, and tying up of the trees, Sophia worked the register. During lulls, she was able to study for finals.
Luke had also begun to practice in earnest on the mechanical bull again. Sometimes she’d watch him atop the hood of a rusting tractor in the rickety barn. The bull was set up in a makeshift ring thickly padded with foam to break his falls. Usually he started off slowly, riding just hard enough to loosen his muscles, before setting the bull on high. The bull would spin and dip and shift directions abruptly, yet somehow Luke would stay centered, holding his free hand up and away from his body. He would ride three or four times, then sit with her while he recovered. Then he would climb into the ring again, the practice session sometimes lasting up to two hours. Though he never complained, she could recognize his soreness in the way he occasionally winced while shifting position or altering his walk. Sunday nights often found him in his bedroom, surrounded by candles as Sophia kneaded his muscles, trying to work out his aches and pains.
Though they spent little time together on campus, they would sometimes go to dinner or a movie, and once they even visited a country bar, where they listened to the same band that had been playing on the night they’d met, Luke teaching her to line dance at last. Luke made the world more vivid somehow, more real, and when they weren’t together, she inevitably found her thoughts drifting toward him.
The second week of December brought with it an early cold front, a heavy storm that blew down from Canada. It was the first snow of the season, and though most of it had melted by the following afternoon, Sophia and Luke spent part of the morning admiring the white-capped beauty of the ranch before hiking to the grove of Christmas trees on what ended up being the busiest day to that point.
Later, as had become their habit, they headed over to his mother’s. While Luke worked on replacing the brake pads in his truck, Linda taught Sophia how to bake. Luke hadn’t been lying about how good her pies were, and they passed an enjoyable afternoon in the kitchen, chatting and laughing, their aprons coated with flour.
Spending time with Linda reminded Sophia of her parents and all the sacrifices they’d made for her. Watching Linda and Luke tease and joke with each other made her wonder whether she’d have the same kind of relationship with her own parents someday. Gone would be the little girl they remembered; in her place would be not only their daughter, but perhaps a friend as well. Being part of Luke’s life had made her feel more like an adult. With only a semester to go, she no longer wondered what the point of college had been. The ups and downs, the dreams and struggles, had all been part of the journey, she realized—a journey that led to a cattle ranch near a town called King, where she had fallen in love with a cowboy named Luke.
“Again?” Marcia whined. She crossed her legs on the bed, pulling her oversize sweater down over her tights. “What? Twelve weekends in a row at the ranch weren’t enough for you?”
“You’re exaggerating.” Sophia rolled her eyes, adding a final coat of lip gloss. Next to her, her small bag was already packed.
“Of course I am. But it’s our last weekend before Christmas break. We leave on Wednesday, and I’ve barely spent any time with you at all this semester.”
“We’re together all the time,” Sophia protested.
“No,” Marcia said. “We used to spend time together. Now you’re at the ranch with him almost every weekend. You didn’t even go to the winter formal last weekend. Our winter formal.”
“You know I don’t care for those kinds of events.”
“Don’t you mean he doesn’t care for them?”
Sophia brought her lips together, not wanting to sound defensive but feeling the first hint of irritation in the way Marcia sounded. “Neither of us wanted to go, okay? He was working and he needed my help.”
Marcia ran her hand through her hair, clearly exasperated. “I don’t know how to say this without making you mad at me.”
“You’re making a mistake.”
“What are you talking about?” Sophia put down her tube of lip gloss and turned to face her friend.
Marcia tossed up her hands. “Think about how it looks— imagine what you’d say if our roles were reversed. Say I was in a relationship for two years—”
“Not likely,” Sophia stopped her.
“Okay, and I know it’s hard, but just pretend. I’m doing this for you. Say I went through a truly awful breakup and was hiding out in my room for weeks, then out of the blue, I meet this guy. So I talk to him and visit him the next day, and then talk to him on the phone and visit him the next weekend. Pretty soon, I’m treating him like he’s my whole world and spending every free minute with him. What would you think? That it just so happened that I met Mr. Right while I was rebounding from a horrible breakup? I mean, what are the odds?”
Sophia could feel blood begin to pound in her veins. “I don’t know what you’re trying to say.”
“I’m saying that you could be making a mistake. And that if you’re not careful, you could end up getting hurt.”
“I’m not making a mistake,” Sophia snapped, zipping up the bag. “And I’m not going to get hurt. I like spending time with Luke.”
“I know.” Marcia softened, patting the bed beside her. “Sit down with me,” she pleaded. “Please?”
Sophia debated before crossing the room and taking a seat on the bed. Marcia faced her.
“I get that you like him,” she said. “I really do. And I’m glad you’re happy again. But where do you see this going? I mean, if it were me, I’d be happy to hang out and have fun, just see where it goes and live for the day. But I’d never let myself think for one minute that I’m going to spend the rest of my life with the guy.”
“I’m not thinking that either,” Sophia interjected.
Marcia picked at her sweater. “Are you sure? Because that’s not the impression I get.” She paused, her expression almost sad. “You shouldn’t have fallen in love with him. And every time you’re with him, you’re only making it worse for yourself.”
Sophia flushed. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because you’re not thinking clearly,” Marcia answered. “If you were, you’d be thinking about the fact that you’re a senior in college—an art history major from New Jersey, for God’s sake— while Luke rides bulls and lives on a ranch in rural North Carolina. You’d be wondering what was going to happen in six months, once you graduate.” She stopped, forcing Sophia to concentrate on what she was really saying. “Can you imagine living on a ranch for the next fifty years? Riding horses, herding cows, and cleaning out stalls for the rest of your life?”
She shook her head. “No—”
“Oh,” Marcia said, cutting her off. “Then maybe you see Luke living in New York City while you work at a museum? Maybe you imagine the two of you spending every Sunday morning at the latest brunch hot spots, sipping cappuccinos and reading the New York Times? Is that how you picture your future together?”
When Sophia didn’t answer, Marcia reached over and squeezed her hand.
“I know how much you care about him,” she went on. “But your lives aren’t just on different tracks, they’re on different continents. And that means you’re going to have to watch your heart from here on, because if you don’t, it’s going to end up breaking into all sorts of pieces.”
“You’ve been quiet tonight,” Luke said between sips of hot cocoa. Sophia held her hands around her cup, staring out from their spot on the couch at the snow flurries beyond the window, the second snow of the season, though this one wasn’t likely to stick. As usual, Luke had the fireplace going, but she couldn’t shake the chill she felt.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m just tired.”
She could feel his attention, which tonight for some reason left her strangely unsettled.
“Do you know what I think?” he asked. “I think Marcia said something to you and it made you upset.”
Sophia didn’t answer right away. “Why would you say that?” she asked, her voice weaker than what she’d expected.
He shrugged. “When I called you to tell you that I was on my way, I could barely get you off the phone. By the time I got to the house, you’d gone silent. And I noticed the way you and Marcia kept glancing at each other. It was like the two of you had just shared some kind of confession, and neither of you was happy about it.”
The warmth from the cup radiated into her hands. “You’re very perceptive for a guy who can go a whole day without talking,” she said, peering up at him.
“That’s why I’m perceptive.”
His answer reminded her of the reasons they’d become so close so fast. But whether that was such a good idea wasn’t quite so clear anymore.
“You’re thinking again,” he chided. “And it’s beginning to make me nervous.”
Despite the tension, she laughed.
“Where do you think all this is going?” she suddenly asked, echoing Marcia’s earlier question.
“Between us, you mean?”
“I’m going to be graduating in the spring. Just a few months from now. What’s going to happen then? What happens when I move back home? Or get a job somewhere?”
He leaned forward, putting his cup on the coffee table before slowly turning to face her again. “I don’t know,” he said.
“You don’t know?”
His face was unreadable. “I can’t tell the future any more than you can.”
“That sounds like an excuse.”
“I’m not making excuses,” he said. “I’m just trying to be honest.”
“But you’re not saying anything!” she cried, hearing her own desperation and hating it.
Luke kept his voice steady. “Then how about this? I love you. I want to be with you. We’ll find a way to make it work.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t.”
“Even if that means you have to move to New Jersey?”
The firelight cast half his face in shadow. “You want me to move to New Jersey?”
“What’s wrong with New Jersey?”
“Nothing,” he said. “I told you that I’ve been there before and that I liked it.”
For the first time, his eyes dropped. “I can’t leave the ranch until I know my mom’s going to be okay,” he said with a certain finality.
She understood his reasons, and yet…
“You want me to stay here,” she said. “After graduation.”
“No.” He shook his head. “I would never ask you to do that.”
She couldn’t hide her exasperation. “Then, again, what are we going to do?”
He put his hands on his knees. “We’re not the first couple to face something like this. My feeling is, if it was meant to be, we’ll figure it out. No, I don’t know the answers, and no, I can’t tell you how it’s all going to play out. And if you were leaving today, I’d be more worried about it. But we’ve got six months, and things might be different by then… Maybe I’ll be riding well and I won’t be so worried about the ranch, or maybe I’ll be digging up one of the fence posts one day and discover some buried treasure. Or maybe we’ll end up losing the ranch entirely and I’ll have to move anyway. Or maybe you’ll get a job in Charlotte, someplace close enough to commute. I don’t know.” He leaned closer, no doubt trying to underscore his words. “The only thing I do know for sure is that if we both want to, we’ll find a way to make it work.”
She knew it was the only thing he could say, but the question of their future still left her feeling unsettled. She didn’t say that, though. Instead, she scooted closer and let him slip his arm around her, his body warm against hers. She drew a long breath, wishing that time could somehow stop. Or at least slow down. “Okay,” she whispered.
He kissed her hair, then rested his chin on top of her head. “I love you, you know.”
“I know,” she whispered. “I love you, too.”
“I’m going to miss you while you’re gone.”
“But I’m glad you’ll spend some time with your family.” “Me too.”
“Maybe I’ll drive up to New Jersey and surprise you.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “You can’t do that.”
“I’m not saying you’re not welcome to visit me. I’m just saying it won’t be a surprise. You kind of ruined it.”
He thought about that. “I guess I did, didn’t I? Well, maybe I’ll surprise you by not coming.”
“You better come. My parents want to meet you. They’ve never met a cowboy before and I know they have this crazy picture in their heads in which you walk around with a six-shooter and say things like ‘Howdy, pardner.’ ”
He laughed. “I guess I’ll disappoint them.”
“No,” she said. “That’s one thing you won’t do.”
At that, Luke smiled. “How about New Year’s Eve? You doing anything?”
“I don’t know. Am I?”
“Now you are.”
“Perfect. But you can’t show up at night. You’re going to have to spend some time with my parents, like I said.”
“Fair enough,” he said. He nodded toward the corner. “Do you want to help me decorate the tree?”
“It’s out back. I picked it out yesterday and dragged it over. It’s kind of small and sparse and it wasn’t likely to sell, but I thought it might be nice in here. So you know what you’ll be missing.”
She leaned into him. “I already know what I’ll be missing.”