The Longest Ride. Занятие 48

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Chapter 29, Part 2


She broke into a flat-out run, autodialing Luke again to no avail. Off campus now, onto the streets. Then Greek Row, students clustered together behind brightly lit windows. A few people hurried down the sidewalks, bustling from one party to the next, the usual Saturday night ritual of abandon and excess. Her house was on the far end of the street, and peering into the snowy darkness, she faintly made out the outline of Luke’s truck.


Just then, she glimpsed a group of guys leaving a fraternity house three doors down, on the other side of the street. Five or six of them, led by someone very tall. Brian. Another figure soon followed, and though she was illuminated only briefly as she ran across the porch and down the steps, Sophia easily recognized her roommate. Faintly, muffled by the winter weather, she heard Marcia calling for Brian to stop.


As she ran, her backpack thumped awkwardly and her feet continued to slip, making her feel clumsy. She was closing in, but not fast enough. Brian and his friends had already fanned out on either side of the truck. She was four houses away, unable to tell from the darkened interior of the truck whether Luke was in there at all. Marcia’s screams cut the air again, angry this time. “This is stupid, Brian! Just forget about him!”


Three houses to go. She watched as Brian and his friend yanked open the door on the driver’s side and reached in. A scuffle began and she screamed just as Luke was pulled from the truck.


“Leave him alone!” Sophia shouted.


“You’ve got to stop, Brian!” Marcia chimed in.


Brian—either buzzed or drunk—ignored them both. Off balance, Luke stumbled into the arms of Jason and Rick, the same two who had been with Brian at the rodeo in McLeansville. Four others crowded around, surrounding Luke.


Panicked, Sophia ran down the center of the street just as Brian reeled back and threw a punch, which sent Luke’s head whipping back. Sophia felt a sudden flash of hard-formed terror as she remembered the video…


As Luke went wobbly, Rick and Jason released him, and he toppled onto the snow-covered asphalt. Finally closing in, still terrified, she watched for movement, not seeing any…


“Get up!” Brian shouted at him. “I told you it wasn’t over!” Sophia saw Marcia jump in front of Brian.


“Just stop!” she screamed at him, trying to hold him back.


“You’ve got to stop!”


Brian ignored her as Sophia saw Luke finally beginning to struggle to all fours, trying to get to his feet.


“Get up!” Brian shouted again. By then, Sophia was able to break through the circle, elbowing past two frat boys to insert herself between Brian and Luke, next to Marcia.


“It’s over, Brian!” she yelled. “Knock it off!”


“It’s not over yet!”


“It is now!” Sophia responded.


“Come on, Brian,” Marcia pleaded, reaching for Brian’s hands. “Let’s just go. It’s cold out here. I’m freezing.”


By then, Luke had risen to his feet, the bruise on his cheekbone evident. Brian was breathing hard, and, surprising Sophia, he shoved Marcia to the side. It wasn’t a violent push, but Marcia hadn’t expected it and she stumbled, falling to the ground. Brian didn’t seem to notice. He took a menacing step forward, preparing to shove Sophia out of the way, too. Stepping aside, she whipped her phone from her pocket. By the time Brian grabbed Luke, Sophia was already pushing buttons and raising the phone.


“Go ahead! I’ll record the whole thing! Go to jail for all I care! Get kicked off the team! You can all get kicked off for all I care!”


She continued to back away, recording, panning over everyone present. She was zooming in on their shocked and anxious expressions when Brian lunged at her, tearing the phone from her grasp and smashing it to the ground.


“You’re not recording anything!”


“Maybe not,” Marcia said from the opposite side of the circle, holding up her phone. “But I am.”


“I guess I probably deserved that,” Luke said. “After what I did to him, I mean.”


They’d climbed into the truck, Luke behind the wheel, Sophia beside him. The threats had worked. It was Jason and Rick who eventually convinced Brian to return with them to the frat house, where Brian was no doubt reliving the punch that had sent Luke crumpling to the ground. Marcia didn’t go with them; instead, she retreated to the sorority house and Sophia had watched the light go on in their room.


“You didn’t deserve it,” she said. “As I recall, you never hit Brian. You just kind of… pinned him to the ground.”


“In the dirt. Facedown.”


“There was that,” she admitted.


“Thanks for stepping in, by the way. With your phone. I’ll buy you a new one.”


“You don’t have to. It was getting old anyway. Why didn’t you answer?”


“Battery died on the drive home and I forgot to bring the car charger. I only packed the regular one. I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal.”


“Did you at least text your mom?”


“Yeah,” he said. If he wondered how she’d known about his habit of doing that, he didn’t ask. Sophia folded her hands in her lap.


“I guess you know what I’ll ask next, right?”


Luke squinted at her. “Why am I here?”


“You shouldn’t have come. I don’t want you here. Especially right after you get back from an event. Because—”


“You can’t live like this.”


“No,” she said. “I can’t.”


“I know,” he said. He sighed before turning sideways in his seat to face her. “I came here to tell you that I can’t either. As of tonight, I’m retired. For good, this time.”


“You’re quitting?” she asked, disbelief in her voice.


“I’ve already quit.”


She wasn’t sure how to respond. Should she congratulate him? Sympathize? Express her relief?


“I also came by to ask if you were doing anything this weekend. Or if you had anything pressing on Monday? Like tests or papers.”


“I have a paper due next Thursday, but other than that, just a couple of classes. What did you have in mind?”


“Just a little break to get my head straight. Before my battery died, I called and talked to my mom about it, and she thinks it’s a good idea.” He let out a long breath. “I was thinking of driving up to the cabins, and I was wondering if you’d like to come with me.”


She still had trouble absorbing everything he’d just said or figuring out whether to believe it. Could he be telling the truth?


Had he really given up riding for good?


With his eyes fixed on her, she whispered, “Okay.”


Upstairs in their room, she found Marcia packing a duffel bag. “What are you doing?”


“I’m going to drive home tonight. I just need to sleep in my own bed, you know? I’ll be out of here in a minute or two.”


“It’s okay,” Sophia said. “It’s your room, too.”


Marcia nodded, continuing to throw items into her bag. Sophia shifted from one foot to the other. “Thanks for texting me. And for what you did with the phone down there.”


“Yeah, well, he deserved it. He was acting… crazy.”


“It was more than that,” Sophia said.

Chapter 29, Part 2


Marcia looked up for the first time. “You’re welcome.”


“He probably won’t remember much of it.”


“It doesn’t matter.”


“It does if you like him.”


Marcia debated that for an instant before shaking her head. Sophia had the sense she’d come to some sort of conclusion even if she wasn’t quite sure what it was.


“Is Luke gone yet?”


“He went to get some gas and to pick up some supplies. He’ll be back in a few minutes.”


“Seriously? I hope he keeps the doors locked this time.” She zipped up her bag and then focused on Sophia again. “Wait… why’s he coming back? I thought you said you broke up with him.”


“I did.”




“How about we talk about it next week—when you get back. Because right now, I’m not completely sure what’s happening with us.”


Marcia accepted that, then started toward the door before stopping again.


“I’ve been thinking,” she said, “and I have the sense that everything is going to work out between you two. And if you want my opinion, I think that’s a good thing.”


In the mountains, the snowfall had been heavy and the roads were icy in places, which meant they didn’t reach the cabins until nearly four in the morning. The grounds resembled a pioneer camp, long since abandoned. Despite the absence of light anywhere, Luke unerringly guided his truck to a stop in front of the same cabin where they’d stayed before, the key dangling from the lock.


Inside, the cabin was frigid, the thin plank walls doing little to keep the cold at bay. He’d told her to pack both a hat and mittens, and she wore them along with her jacket while Luke got the fireplace and the woodstove burning. The skidding, slipping drive had kept her on edge all night, but now that they had arrived, she felt exhaustion catching up with her.


They went to bed fully clothed in their jackets and hats, falling asleep within minutes. When Sophia woke hours later, the house had warmed considerably, though not enough for her to walk around without several layers of clothing. She reasoned that a cheap motel would have been more comfortable, but when she took in the scene outside the window, she was struck again by how beautiful it was here. Icicles hung from the branches, glittering in the sunlight. Luke was already in the kitchen, and the aroma of bacon and eggs filled the air.


“You’re finally awake,” he observed.


“What time is it?”


“It’s almost noon.”


“I guess I was just tired. How long have you been up?”


“A couple of hours. Trying to keep this place warm enough to be habitable isn’t as easy as you think.”


She didn’t doubt that. Gradually, her attention was drawn toward the window. “Have you ever been here during the winter?”


“Just once. I was little, though. I spent the day building snowmen and eating roasted marshmallows.”


She smiled at the image of him as a boy before growing serious. “Are you ready to talk yet? About what made you change your mind?”


He forked a piece of bacon and removed it from the pan. “Nothing, really. I guess I just finally got around to listening to common sense.”


“That’s it?”


He set down the fork. “I drew Big Ugly Critter in the short go. And when it came time to actually ride…” He shook his head, not finishing the thought. “Anyway, afterwards, I knew that it was time to hang up the spurs. I realized I was done with it. It was killing my mom little by little.”


And me, she wanted to say. But didn’t.


He glanced over his shoulder, as if hearing her unspoken words. “I also realized that I missed you.”


“What about the ranch?” she asked.


He scooped the scrambled eggs onto two plates.


“We’ll lose it, I guess. Then try to start over again. My mom’s pretty well-known. I’m hoping she’ll land on her feet. Of course, she told me not to worry about her. That I should be more concerned with what I’m going to do.”


“And what are you going to do?”


“I don’t know yet.” He turned and brought both plates to the table. A pot of coffee was waiting, along with the utensils. “I’m hoping that this weekend is going to help me figure that out.”


“And you think we can pick up right where we left off?”


“Not at all,” he said. He arranged the plates on the table and pulled out her chair. “But I was hoping that we could maybe start over.”


After they ate, they spent the afternoon building a snowman, just as he once did as a child. While they rolled the sticky snowballs into ever-larger boulders, they caught each other up on their lives. Luke described the events in Macon and South Carolina and what was happening at the ranch. Sophia explained that the state of affairs with Marcia had driven her to spend all her time at the library, leaving her so far ahead in her reading that she doubted she’d have to study for the next two weeks.


“That’s one of the good things about trying to avoid your roommate,” she commented. “It improves your study habits.”


“She surprised me last night,” Luke remarked. “I wouldn’t have thought she’d do something like that. Based on the circumstances, I mean.”


“I wasn’t surprised,” Sophia said.




She thought about it, wondering how Marcia was doing.


“Okay. Maybe I was a little surprised.”


That evening, as they snuggled on the couch beneath a blanket, the fireplace roaring, Sophia asked, “Are you going to miss riding?”


“Probably a little,” he said. “Not enough to do it again, though.”


“You sound so sure of that.”


“I’m sure.”


Sophia turned to study his face, mesmerized by the reflection of firelight in his eyes. “I’m kind of sad for your mom,” she said.


“I know she’s relieved that you stopped, but…”


“Yeah,” he said. “I’m sad, too. But I’ll make it up to her somehow.”


“I think having you around is all she really wanted.”


“That’s what I told myself,” he said. “But now, I’ve got a question for you. And I want you to think about it before you answer. It’s important.”


“Go ahead.”


“Are you busy next weekend? Because if you’re free, I’d like to take you to dinner.”


“Are you asking me out on a date?” she asked.


“I’m trying to start over. That’s what you do, right? Ask someone out?”


She leaned up, kissing him for the first time that day. “I don’t think we have to start all the way over, do we?”


“Is that a yes or a no?”


“I love you, Luke.”


“I love you, too, Sophia.”


They made love that night, then again on Monday morning, after sleeping in late. They had a leisurely brunch, and after taking a walk, Sophia watched Luke load up the truck from the warmth of the cabin, sipping her coffee. They weren’t the same as they once had been. She reflected that in the few months they’d known each other, their relationship had evolved into something deeper, something she hadn’t anticipated.

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Диана Семёнычева

Диана Семёнычева