Twice in a Blue Moon

I could see the storyteller in him, the biographer. He didn’t even know my mom, and still he drilled down to something so quintessentially true about her: she would never tell me to say away from LA if that’s what I really wanted.

The idea of chasing that dream—of really stepping out into the sun and owning that legacy—set something afire inside me, and when Sam caught my eye and held my gaze, I could tell he saw it too.





four

ON OUR SIXTH DAY in London we watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. The crowd was heavy and our bodies were pressed close as we all jockeyed for the best vantage point through the gilded iron fence. Sam’s proximity made me drunk. I would never have anticipated how longing could be so dizzying, how it could feel like he belonged to me without any proof or history at all.

In the jostling, Sam looped his pinky around mine. I was a tiny fish; he had me hooked. It felt almost criminal the way the physical reaction snaked up my arm, down my torso, between my legs.

He looked down at me and smiled, winking.

“Don’t forget to tell your mom I’m an all-around talented guy,” he said quietly.

I think he knew exactly what he was doing. Was it a good sign or a scary one that he seemed to enjoy how flustered he made me?

On a particularly crowded train on day eight, we let Nana and Luther have the only empty seats. Sam insisted I take the bar near the bench in the back, while he stood behind me, easily able to reach the handle directly overhead. It took a few minutes of a rocky ride for me to realize that he’d chosen that spot to protect me from the group of rowdy guys just behind him. And, with him standing so close, I felt the heat of him along the full length of my body, his front pressed to my back, rocking against me as the train slipped around curves and bends in the track. I was flustered and flushed by the time we reached Westminster station, tense with an unfamiliar ache.

Sam just grinned knowingly as we parted ways off the elevator, telling me under his breath that he’d see me later.

At nine, I found him sitting on the grass, facing the door when I emerged. As usual, the garden was empty. I felt grateful for this location in a new way; yes, it was a beautiful view, but the surrounding monuments were also a pretty capable distraction from the jewel of the garden; no one else was ever out here with us.

Sam smiled as I approached, watching me walk the entire distance from the back door of the hotel to where he was sitting with his legs stretched out in front of him, leaning back on his hands. In the past two days, it seemed like everything had shifted; we’d stepped across the unspoken line from acquaintances into this new intimate awareness. I still felt clumsy in it. I wasn’t nearly as casually flirtatious as Sam, which made me feel young and inexperienced and constantly hyperaware of everything I said. It was growing simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting.

I was barely seated before he told me, “You are so fucking gorgeous. Do you know that?”

He didn’t look away or soften the moment at all, and my first instinct was to duck my head or pretend I needed to tie my shoe, or do something else dismissive and bashful. I’d never had a guy say something like that to me, let alone practically growl it.

I looked up at him and smiled, and the expression on his face made my heart race. “Thanks.”

He ran a finger beneath his lip, contemplating something. “I liked being with you on the train today.”

“That was you behind me?” I deadpanned.

Sam burst out laughing. “Okay, okay,” he said with a wild grin and snapped his fingers. “Lay down. Tonight is the clearest night we’ve had so far.”

I settled on the grass, his instructions to lay down playing on a loop in my brain. Sam surprised me by putting his head next to mine, and stretching his body out in the opposite direction. We were a set of propellers, ready to take flight.

He pointed out Jupiter, so bright above us, and told me, “I used to want to be an astronaut.”

“So did Charlie,” I said. “She made a rocket out of a cardboard refrigerator box and still had it when I moved to town in fourth grade.”

“Tell me more about her.”

It was weird to feel so far away from that world, and so deeply rooted in this new routine with Sam. “She’s my best friend back home.”

“Right.” He hummed. “Charlie is a rebel name for a girl.”

“It is?” I turned my head before remembering that he was right there, and our eyes were almost aligned. He was blurry, but even so I could see that he was smiling. We both turned our faces back to the sky.

“It totally fits, then,” I said. “Charlie is the best. Her mom is a former model. She’s so insanely beautiful, but basically her entire life is focused on maintaining her looks, which is hard to do where we are because there aren’t, like, gyms or spas or plastic surgeons. They live up on the hill, in this McMansion. Like, nothing else around us looks like this house. It reminds me of a ski lodge in pictures of the Alps, with those sloped roofs and big windows.”

“Yeah,” Sam said, a rumble from somewhere deep inside him.

“A few years ago, her dad just didn’t come back from a business trip in China, where he’s from. Turns out her parents never really got married, so it’s just Charlie and her mom now.”

In my peripheral vision, Sam lifted his hands, wiping his face. “Wow.”

“Charlie went through a pretty rebellious phase that year, but she’s chilled out a little. As much as she ever will, I guess. Charlie’s pretty awesome. You’d love her.”

Was this a sufficient description of Charlie? With her crazy style that stood out nearly as much as a half-Asian girl would anyway on River Road? With her love for stray dogs and the lemonade stands she’d organize to give money to homeless kids? I was growing to despise this CliffsNotes version of my life. I’d never done this before—letting someone completely in from start to finish. I wanted to plug my brain into Sam’s and simply download everything in one go.

Sam adjusted his position; I imagined him crossing one long leg over another. “So, you have Charlie, and there was a boyfriend named Jesse. Who else?”

Frankly, it was embarrassing to have the tiny scale of my life measured like this, but those two were and have always been the bulk of my social world. I couldn’t even think about Charlie going to UCLA, and Jesse going to Wesleyan, because it would remind me that I’d need to make all new friends at Sonoma State.

“That’s pretty much it,” I said. “I mean, El Molino is a super small school and I’m friendly with almost everyone, but I guess I was never one of those social butterflies who spent time with big groups of people. We had the popular clique, and they’re fine, but I’m not really part of it.” I pulled away a little so I could look at him. “I bet you were.”

“Yeah, I guess.” He shrugged and scratched his eyebrow. “But my school was really small, too. Like four hundred kids total. I had my group of guys I’d hang with. Most of them go to State with me, so I see them all the time. Eric. Ben. Jackson. A few went farther away—probably won’t come back. It’ll be interesting to see who’s still there with me in twenty years.”

“So for sure you’re going to go home and run the farm?” I asked.

My stomach did the familiar clenching-drop combination it did whenever I imagined staying in Guerneville and taking over Jude’s Café. Every time I tried to imagine that future, everything turned blank.

“That’s the plan.” He took a deep breath. “I love it there. I know it as well as Luther does now. It’s so peaceful at night; the sky gets so dark you can see everything. But they’re getting older, and if Luther really is sick . . . I don’t know.” He paused, wiping a hand over his mouth. “I might be taking it on earlier than I thought. Which is fine, because let’s say someday I want to write a book? I can easily do it there. I keep telling them they can live there and let me take care of them for once. Roberta probably won’t hear of it until I’m married, though.”

A tiny shiver worked its way down my arms. “Do you have someone back home?”

Sam laughed at this, and the sound was so low he seemed much more man than boy. “No, Tate. There’s no one right now.” He looked at me, both amused and incredulous. “Wouldn’t they be pissed to find me lying on the lawn with the beautiful daughter of the most famous actor alive?”

“It’s not like we’re doing anything,” I reminded him, but the words come out all wobbly, like I knew they weren’t entirely true.

In response, he gave the moment a heavy, lingering beat of silence before he grinned over at me. “We sure aren’t.”

I grew hot all over, and a nervous laugh escaped when neither of us spoke for five . . . ten . . . fifteen seconds.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked him.

“You.”

I was positive he heard the way my voice shook when I asked, “What about me?”

“That I like you,” he said with gentle urgency. “That it’s weird to already like you so much. That I want to spend time with you—alone—during the day, and get to know you better, but don’t know how we could make that happen.”

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