Twice in a Blue Moon

Twice in a Blue Moon

Christina Lauren



If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.

From How I Go to the Woods by Mary Oliver





one





JUNE


Fourteen Years Ago

NANA TURNED TO INSPECT the hotel room. Behind her, the curtains drifted closed with a whisper. With her dark, sharp eyes, she surveyed the cream and red decor, the generic paintings, and the television she no doubt thought gaudily perched on the otherwise beautiful dresser. Never in my life had I been in a room this fancy, but her gaze, as it touched everything, read Given the cost, I expected more.

Mom had always described this expression as pruney. It fit. My grandmother—only sixty-one—totally looked like a piece of soft, dried fruit when she got mad.

As if on cue, she grimaced like she’d just smelled something sour. “Our view is the street. If I wanted to stare at a street I could have stayed in Guerneville.” She blinked away from the dresser to the telephone on the desk, moving toward it with purpose. “We aren’t even on the right side of the building.”

Oakland, to New York, to London, landing just over an hour ago. For the longest leg, our seats were in the middle of a group of five, on the bulkhead row, where we were flanked on one side by a frail older man who fell immediately asleep on Nana’s shoulder and a mother with an infant on the other. By the time we were finally situated in the room, I just wanted a meal, and a nap, and a tiny patch of quiet away from Nana the Prune.

Mom and I had lived with Nana since I was eight. I knew she had it in her to be a good sport; I’d seen it every day for the past ten years. But right then we were far from home, way out of our comfort zone, and Nana—owner of a small town café—detested spending her hard-earned money and not getting exactly what she was promised.

I nodded to the window as a very European black taxi zoomed by. “It is a pretty great street, though.”

“I paid for a view of the Thames.” She ran a blunt fingertip down the list of hotel extensions, and my stomach clenched into a ball of guilt at the reminder that this vacation was way more lavish than anything we’d ever done. “And Big Ben.” The tremble of her hand told me exactly how quickly she was calculating what she could have done with that money if we’d stayed somewhere cheaper.

Out of habit, I tugged at a string on the hem of my shirt, wrapping it around my finger until the tip pulsed. Nana batted my hand away before she sat at the desk, heaving an impatient breath as she lifted the phone from its cradle.

“Yes. Hello,” she said. “I’m in room 1288 and I have brought my granddaughter all the way here from—yes, that’s correct, I am Judith Houriet.”

I looked up at her. She said Judith, not Jude. Jude Houriet baked pies, served the same regular customers she’d had since she opened her café at nineteen, and never made a fuss when someone couldn’t afford their meal. Judith Houriet was apparently much fancier: she traveled to London with her granddaughter and certainly deserved the view of Big Ben she’d been promised.

“As I was saying,” she continued, “we are here to celebrate her eighteenth birthday, and I specifically booked a room with a view of Big Ben and the Tham—yes.” She turned to me, stage-whispering, “Now I’m on hold.”

Judith didn’t even sound like my nana. Was this what happened when we left the cocoon of our town? This woman in front of me had the same soft curves and stout, worker’s hands, but wore a structured black jacket I knew Jude could barely afford, and was missing her ubiquitous yellow gingham apron. Jude wore her hair in a bun with a pencil dug through it; Judith wore her hair blown out and tidy.

When whoever was on the other end returned, I could tell it wasn’t with good news. Nana’s “Well that’s unacceptable,” and “I can assure you I am going to complain,” and “I expect a refund of the difference in room rates,” told me we were out of luck.

She hung up and exhaled long and slow, the way she did when it had been raining for days, I was bored and testy, and she was at her wits’ end with me. At least this time I knew I wasn’t the reason behind her mood.

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am,” I said quietly. “Even in this room.”

She blew out another breath and looked over at me, softening only slightly. “Well. We’ll see what we can do about it.”

Two weeks with Nana in a tiny hotel room, where she was sure to complain about the poor water pressure or the too-soft mattress or how much everything cost.

But two weeks in London. Two weeks of exploring, of adventure, of cramming in as much experience as I could before my life got small again. Two weeks seeing sights I’d only ever read about in books, or seen on TV. Two weeks watching some of the best theater productions anywhere in the world.

Two weeks of not being in Guerneville.

Dealing with a little pruney was worth it. Standing, I lifted my suitcase onto my bed, and began unpacking.



After a surreal walk across Westminster Bridge and past the towering Big Ben—I could actually feel the chimes through the center of my chest—we ducked into the darkness of a small pub called The Red Lion. Inside, it smelled of stale beer, old grease, and leather. Nana peeked in her purse, making sure she’d converted enough cash for dinner.

A few figures lurked near the bar, yelling at the television, but the only other people there for a meal at five in the evening were a couple of guys seated near the window.

When Nana spoke—strong voice, clear American accent saying, “A table for two, please. Near the window.”—the older of the two men stood abruptly, sending the table screeching toward his companion.

“Across the pond as well?” he called out. He was around Nana’s age, tall and broad, black with a shock of salt-and-pepper hair and a thick mustache. “We just ordered. Please, come join us.”

Nana’s dread was apparent; it settled across her shoulders in a gentle curve.

She waved away the host, taking the menus from his hand and leading us both to their table by the window.

“Luther Hill.” The older man stretched out his hand to Nana. “This is my grandson, Sam Brandis.”

Nana gingerly shook his hand. “I’m Jude. This is my granddaughter, Tate.”

Luther moved to shake my hand next, but I was hardly paying attention. Sam stood at his side, and just looking at him sent an earthquake rattling down my spine, the way the chimes of Big Ben had reverberated along my bones earlier. If Luther was tall, Sam was a redwood, a skyscraper, wide as a road.

He ducked a little to pull my attention from the expanse of his chest, giving me a smile that I imagined must be cultivated to reassure people that he wasn’t going to break their hand when he shook it.

He pressed his palm to mine and squeezed, carefully. “Hi, Tate.”

He was gorgeous, but just imperfect enough to seem . . . perfect. His nose had been broken at some point, and healed with a small bump near the bridge. He had a scar through one of his eyebrows and one on his chin—a tiny, indented comma below his lip. But there was something about the shadow he cast, the solid weight of him, and the way he came together—his soft brown hair, wide-set green-brown eyes, and full, smooth mouth—that made my pulse seem to echo in my throat. I felt like I could stare and stare at his face for the rest of the night and still find something new in the morning.

“Hi, Sam.”

Nana’s chair screeched dissonantly across the wooden floor, and I snapped my gaze to where Luther was helping her into her seat. Only two weeks prior, I ended a three-year relationship with Jesse—the only boy in Guerneville I’d ever considered worthy of affection. Boys were the last thing on my mind.

Weren’t they?

London wasn’t supposed to be about boys. It was about being in a place with museums, and history, and people who were raised in a city rather than in a tiny, damp, redwood-lined river town. It was meant to be about doing every last thing Nana has ever dreamed of doing here. It was about having one fancy adventure before I ducked back into the shadows and began college in Sonoma.

But it seemed Sam didn’t get the mental memo that London wasn’t about him, because although I’d looked away, I could feel the way he was still watching me. And was still holding my hand. In unison, we looked down. His hand felt heavy, like a rock, around mine. Slowly he let go.

We sat together at the cramped table—Nana across from me, Sam to my right. Nana smoothed the linen tablecloth with an inspecting hand, pursing her lips; I could tell she was still mad about the view and barely containing the need to voice it to someone else, to hear them confirm that she was right to be up in arms over this injustice.

In my peripheral vision, I caught Sam’s long fingers as they reached out and engulfed his water glass.

“Well now.” Luther leaned in, pulling a whistling breath in through his nose. “How long have you been in town?”

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