The Longest Ride. Занятие 49

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Chapter 29, Part 3


They hit the road a few minutes later and settled into the drive, making their way down the mountain. The sun reflected against the snow and produced a harsh glare that caused Sophia to turn away, leaning her head against the truck’s window. She glanced over at Luke in the driver’s seat. She still wasn’t sure what was going to happen when she graduated in May, but for the first time, she began to wonder whether Luke might be free to follow her. She hadn’t voiced those thoughts to him, but she wondered whether her plans had played a role in his decision to walk away from his career.


She was musing over these questions in a warm and peaceful haze, on the verge of dozing, when Luke’s voice broke the silence.


“Did you see that?”


She opened her eyes, realizing that Luke was slowing the truck.


“I didn’t see anything,” she admitted.


Surprising her, Luke slammed on the brakes and pulled his truck to the side of the highway, his eyes glued to the rearview mirror. “I thought I saw something,” he said. He put the truck into gear and shut off the engine, flicking on the flashers. “Give me a second, will you?”


“What is it?”


“I’m not sure. I just want to check something out.”


He grabbed his jacket from behind his seat and hopped out of the truck, pulling it on as he walked toward the rear of the truck. Over her shoulder, she noted that they’d just rounded a curve. Luke checked in both directions, then jogged to the other side of the road, approaching the guardrail. Only then did she realize that it was broken.


Luke peered down the steeply sloping embankment, then quickly swiveled his head toward her. Even from a distance, she could sense the urgency in his expression and body language. Quickly, she hopped out of the truck.


“Grab my phone and call 911!” he shouted. “A car went off the road here, and I think someone’s still in it!”


And with that, he climbed through the broken section of the guardrail, vanishing from sight.

Chapter 30, Part 1


Later, she would recall the events that followed in a series of quick-flash images: Making the emergency call and then watching Luke descend the steep embankment. Running back to the truck in panic for a bottle of water after Luke said he thought the driver was still moving. Clinging to bushes and branches as she scrambled down the wooded incline and then noting the state of the wreck— the crumpled hood, quarter-panel nearly sheared off, the jagged cracks in the windshield. Watching Luke struggle to open the jammed driver’s-side door while trying to keep his balance on the steep slope, a slope that became a sheer cliff face only several feet from the front of the car


But most of all, she remembered her throat catching at the sight of the old man, his bony head pressed against the steering wheel. She noted the wisps of hair covering his spotted scalp, the ears that seemed too big for him. His arm was bent at an unnatural angle. A gash in his forehead, his shoulder cocked wrong, lips so dry they’d begun to bleed. He had to be in terrible pain, yet his expression was oddly serene. When Luke was eventually able to wrench the door open, she found herself moving closer, struggling to keep her balance on the slippery incline.


“I’m here,” Luke was saying to the old man. “Can you hear me? Can you move?”


Sophia could hear the panic in Luke’s voice as he reached over, gently touching the man’s neck in search of a pulse. “It’s weak,” he said to her. “He’s in really bad shape.”


The old man’s moan was barely audible. Luke instinctively reached for the water bottle and poured some water into the cap, then tilted it to the man’s mouth. Most spilled, but the drops were enough to wet his lips and he was able to choke down a swallow.


“Who are you?” Luke inquired gently. “What’s your name?”


The man made a sound that came out in a wheeze. His halfopen eyes were unfocused. “Ira.”


“When did this happen?”


It took a long moment for the word to come. “atur… day…”


Luke glanced at Sophia in disbelief before focusing on Ira again. “We’re getting you help, okay? The ambulance should be here soon. Just hold on. Do you want some more water?”


At first, Sophia wasn’t sure Ira had heard Luke, but he opened his mouth slightly and Luke poured another capful, dribbling in a small amount. Ira swallowed again before mumbling something unintelligible. Then, with a slow rasp, the words separated by breaths: “Edder… Fo… I… ife… Roof…”


Neither Sophia nor Luke could make sense of it. Luke leaned in again.


“I don’t understand. Can I call someone for you, Ira? Do you have a wife or kids? Can you tell me a phone number?




“Better?” Luke asked.


“No… Edd… edder… in… car… roof…”


Luke turned to Sophia, uncertain. Sophia shook her head, automatically running through the alphabet… getter, jetter, letter… Letter?


“I think he’s talking about a letter.” She bent closer to Ira, could smell illness on his faint breath. “Letter? That’s what you meant, right?”


“Ess…,” Ira wheezed, his eyes closing again. His breaths rattled like pebbles in a jar. Sophia scanned the interior of the car, her gaze falling on several items strewn on the floor beneath the caved-in dashboard. Clinging to the side of the car, she worked herself around to the rear, making for the other side.


“What are you doing?” Luke called out.


“I want to find his letter…”


The passenger side was less damaged and Sophia was able to pull open the door with relative ease. On the floor lay a thermos and a misshapen sandwich. A small plastic bag filled with prunes. A bottle of water… and there, up in the corner, an envelope. She reached in, her feet sliding before she caught herself. She extended her reach with a grunt, grasping the envelope between two fingers. From across the car, she held it up, noting Luke’s incomprehension.


“A letter for his wife,” she said, closing the door and making her way back to Luke. “That’s what he was saying earlier.”


“When he was talking about the roof?”


“Not roof,” Sophia said. She turned the envelope around so Luke could read it before sliding it into her jacket pocket. “Ruth.”


An officer with the highway patrol was the first to arrive. After scrambling down the slope, he and Luke agreed that it was too risky to move Ira. But it took forever for the EMTs and ambulance to arrive, and even when they did, it was clear that there wasn’t a safe way to get him out of the car and up the snowy slope on a stretcher. They would have needed triple the manpower, and even then it would have been a challenge.


In the end, a large tow truck was called, which increased the delay. When it arrived and moved into the proper place, a cable was rolled out and hooked to the car’s rear bumper while the EMTs—improvising with the seat belts—secured Ira in place to minimize any jostling. Only then was the car winched slowly up the slope and finally onto the highway.


While Luke answered the officer’s questions, Sophia remained near the EMTs, watching while Ira was loaded onto the stretcher and given oxygen before he was rolled into the ambulance.


A few minutes later, Luke and Sophia were alone. He took her in his arms, pulling her close, both of them trying to draw strength from each other, when Sophia suddenly remembered that she still had the letter in her pocket.


Two hours later, they waited in the crowded emergency room of the local hospital, Luke holding Sophia’s hand as they sat beside each other. In her other hand, she held the letter, and every now and then she’d study it, noting the shaky scrawl and wondering why she’d given the nurse their names and asked to be updated on Ira’s condition, instead of simply handing over the letter to be placed with Ira’s belongings.


It would have allowed them to continue the trip back to Winston-Salem, but when she recalled the look on Ira’s face and the urgency he obviously felt about finding the letter, Sophia felt compelled to make sure the letter didn’t get lost in the hustle and bustle of the hospital. She wanted to hand it to the doctor, or better yet, to Ira himself…


Or that was what she told herself, anyway. All she really knew was that the almost peaceful expression Ira had been wearing when they found him made her wonder what he’d been thinking or dreaming about. It was miraculous that he’d survived his injuries given his age and frail state. Most of all, she wondered why, to this point, no friends or family had come bursting through the doors of the emergency room, frantic with worry. He’d been conscious when they’d wheeled him in, which meant Ira probably could have told them to call someone. So where were they? Why weren’t they here yet? At a time like this, Ira needed someone more than ever, and—


Luke shifted in his seat, interrupting her thoughts. “You know that we’re probably not going to be able to see him, right?” he asked.


“I know,” she said. “But I still want to know how he’s doing.”




She turned over the letter in her hands, still unable to put the reasons into words. “I don’t know.”


Another forty minutes passed before a doctor finally emerged from behind the swinging doors. He went first to the desk and then, after the nurse pointed them out, approached them. Luke and Sophia stood.


“I’m Dr. Dillon,” he said. “I was told that you’ve been waiting for a chance to visit Mr. Levinson?” “Do you mean Ira?” Sophia asked.


“You’re the ones who found him, correct?”




“Can I ask what your interest is?”


Sophia almost told the doctor about the letter then but didn’t. Luke sensed her confusion and cleared his throat. “I guess we just want to know that he’s going to be okay.”


“Unfortunately, I can’t discuss his condition since you’re not family,” he said.


“But he’s going to be okay, right?”


The doctor looked from one to the other. “By all rights, you shouldn’t even be here. You did the right thing by calling the ambulance. And I’m glad you found him when you did, but you don’t have any further responsibility. You’re strangers.”


Sophia looked at the doctor, sensing he had more to say, watching as he finally sighed.


“I don’t really know what’s going on here,” Dr. Dillon said, “but for whatever reason, when Mr. Levinson heard you were here, he asked to see you. I can’t tell you anything about his condition, but I must ask that you keep the visit as short as possible.”


Ira appeared even smaller than he had in the car, as though he’d shrunk in the last few hours. He lay in the partially reclined hospital bed, his mouth agape, his cheeks hollow, IV lines snaking out of his arm. A machine next to his bed was beeping in rhythm to his heart.


“Not too long,” the doctor warned, and Luke nodded before the two of them entered the room. Hesitating, Sophia moved to the side of the bed. From the corner of her eye, she saw Luke pull a chair away from the wall and slide it toward her before stepping back again. Sophia took a seat by the bed and leaned into his field of vision.


“We’re here, Ira,” she said, holding the letter in front of him. “I have your letter for you.”


Ira inhaled with some effort, slowly rolling his head. His eyes went first to the letter and then to her. “Ruth…”


“Yes,” she said. “Your letter to Ruth. I’m going to put it right here beside you, okay?”


At her comment, he stared without focus, uncomprehending. Then his face softened, becoming almost sad. He moved his hand slightly, trying to reach hers, and on instinct, she reached over and took it.


“Ruth,” he said, tears beginning to form. “My sweet Ruth.”


“I’m sorry… I’m not Ruth,” she said softly. “My name is Sophia. We’re the ones who found you today.”


He blinked, then blinked again, his confusion evident.




The plea in his tone made her throat tighten.


“No,” she said quietly, watching as he moved his hand and inched it toward the letter. She understood what he was doing and slid the letter toward him. He took it, lifting it as though it were an enormous weight, pushing it toward her hand. Only then did she notice Ira’s tears. When he spoke, his voice sounded stronger, the words clear for the first time. “Can you be?”


She fingered the letter. “You want me to read this? The letter you wrote to your wife?”


His gaze met her eyes, a tear spilling down his shrunken cheek. “Please, Ruth. I want you to read it.”


He exhaled a long breath, as if the effort of speaking had worn him out. Sophia turned toward Luke, wondering what she should do. Luke pointed toward the letter.


“I think you should read it, Ruth,” he said to her. “It’s what he wants you to do. Read it aloud, so he can hear you.” Sophia stared at the letter in her hands. It felt wrong. Ira was confused. It was a personal letter. Ruth was supposed to read this, not her…


“Please,” she heard Ira say, as if reading her mind, his voice weakening again.


With trembling hands, Sophia studied the envelope before lifting the seal. The letter was a single page long, written in the same shaky scrawl she’d noticed on the envelope. Though still uncertain, she found herself moving the letter into better light. And with that, she slowly began to read:


My darling Ruth,


It is early, too early, but as always it seems I’m unable to go back to sleep. Outside, the day is breaking in all its newfound glory and yet, all I can think about is the past. In this silent hour, I dream of you and the years we spent together. An anniversary is approaching, dear Ruth, but it is not the one we usually celebrate. It is, however, the one that set in motion my life with you, and I turn to your seat, wanting to remind you of this, even though I understand that you will not be there. God, with a wisdom I can’t claim to understand, called you home a long time ago, and the tears I shed that night have never seemed to dry.


Sophia stopped to look at Ira, noting the way his lips had come together, tears still leaking into the crevices and valleys of his face. Though she tried to remain poised, her voice began to crack as she went on.

About the Author

Диана Семёнычева

Диана Семёнычева