Twice in a Blue Moon

“What would you want to do?” I asked.

Sam sat up, reaching to brush the damp chill of the lawn off his back. “I dunno. Just walk around. Talk more like this, but in the daylight so I can see you properly.” He turned and looked down at me, a smile slowly lifting the corners of his mouth. “Lie down together on a different lawn somewhere.”



“You want to spend the day alone?”

I didn’t miss the edge of hurt in Nana’s voice.

“Not because I don’t want to be with you,” I insisted. “I’m leaving soon, to school in Sonoma, and I like the idea that I can walk around a big city alone and navigate it by myself. I just . . . want to try for a few hours.”

I held my breath while she lifted her arms, clasping pearls at the back of her neck. “I suppose I could visit Libby tomorrow without you.”

Libby, from deep in Nana’s past, owned a tiny London hotel. Even the way my grandmother said Libby with a particularly lilting emphasis on the first syllable made me see that she thought her old high school friend must be impressively cultured.

“Exactly,” I said, exhaling at the appearance of this convenient excuse: an old friend. “You wouldn’t want me there, either. I’m sure I’d keep you from gossiping your faces off.”

Nana laughed, swatting at me with her sock before sitting to put it on. “You know I don’t gossip.”

“Sure, and I don’t like pie.”

She laughed again, and then looked up at me from where she sat at the edge of the bed. Her expression straightened from her brow to her mouth, and, at rest, her lips pulled down in a natural pose of displeasure. “Where will you go?”

I tried to look undecided, but the plan flashed in my head like a marquee. Gambling that she wouldn’t follow to check up on me—I didn’t think even Nana was that paranoid or controlling—I said, “Not sure. Maybe Hyde Park?”

“But hon, we’ve planned that for next Tuesday.”

“Maybe I could go out on a paddleboat?” I tried to make it sound more like it had only just occurred to me, and not that Sam and I had already discussed the idea. “It looks fun, but I don’t think you’d want to do that with me.”

Nana wouldn’t step foot on a paddleboat, but wouldn’t want to stop me from doing it, either. She nodded slowly, bending to pull on her other sock. I could see I’d won.

“I guess you’d be fine.” She looked up. This was such an enormous leap of faith for her. She would never let me even go to San Francisco or Berkeley alone.

And here I was, asking to walk around London alone—as far as she knew, that is. “You’re sure you’ll be fine?”

I nodded quickly, working to speak past the sun rising in my chest. “Totally fine.”





five

“YOU ARE A MASTER manipulator.” Sam handed a few pound notes to the man at the Bluebird Boats rental kiosk and looked over his shoulder at me. “I thought for sure she’d say no. How did you get Jude to go for it?”

“I told her I wanted to be independent and ride a boat. I knew she didn’t want to go on the lake, so . . .”

He reached out for a high five, and we followed the man along the dock to where our blue paddleboat was tethered to a wide metal hook. The mechanics of powering the boat with our feet seemed pretty straightforward, but the man explained it anyway: how the pedals worked, how to steer, what to do if we got stuck far out and the wind picked up across the lake. Had he not looked up and seen the freight engine that is Sam, standing right in front of him?

“If we get stuck,” I said, hooking my thumb toward the mountain of a man beside me, “I’ll just make him climb out and tow me back to the dock.”

The man sized him up with a raised brow. “Well, off then. Stay on this side of the bridge, all right?”

Sam steadied me with his hand on my arm as I climbed into my seat, before following me in. The boat dipped noticeably under his weight. “We’re going to be paddling in circles,” I joked. “Maybe you should only use one foot.”

He looked at me, eyes glimmering. “You’re in an especially good mood.”

I liked that he saw it. He was right, too. I was nearly light-headed I was so giddy to be out on my own, especially with Sam. We had only six days left together, and I was already dreading having to say goodbye.

We backed up and play-fought over who got to steer, finally agreeing that I’d go first, then he’d get a turn.

“Girls usually like to be driven around,” he said when he conceded control of the simple lever.

“Careful,” I growled darkly, but playfully, over at him. “You wouldn’t want to sound sexist.”

With a sweet smile, he held a hand to his heart. “I sure wouldn’t.”

It was windier on the lake than it was on the paved trail, and steering proved harder than I’d expected. Paddling was comical. I was pushing with every bit of strength I had and still barely managed to keep us moving in a straight line.

“Canoing is way easier,” I whined. “Mental note to request they stock canoes when we return.”

“Or kayaks.”

“We have these huge lines of canoes at the beach in town,” I told him, already breathless. “They used to be metal and would get hot as hell in the sun. Now they’re these thick, inflatable ones. Yellow rubber. You’ll see tourists all over the river, tipping over where it gets gnarled just before Jenner.”

“You get a lot of tourists?”

“In the summer, yeah.” I stopped, working to catch my breath. “Wine country. The river. I get it—it’s a nice place to stay . . . for a few days.”

He laughed at this and again, we veered left because he was pedaling so much more forcefully than I could.

“Lend me one of your legs,” I said.

He reached over, tickling my side, and then shifted his hand behind me, letting it rest around my shoulders. “This okay?”

I had to swallow past a thick swell of YES in my throat, and managed a garbled, “Of course.”

“Sorry we cut out of breakfast so early.”

For once this morning, Sam and Luther were downstairs before we arrived, and they left only a few minutes after we’d returned with our plates of food. “Is Luther okay?”

“Not sure. He hasn’t been eating much.”

Now that he mentioned it, I’d noticed it, too.

His hand curled around the back of my neck, warm and firm. Changing the subject, he asked, “Is it weird to be on your own in a big city?”

“A little. Mom and Nana don’t really let me go anywhere alone.”

“Were they worried about something happening related to your dad?” He squeezed my neck gently. “Or are they just overprotective?”

“I don’t think they were worried about Dad. More the media, I guess. Or . . . it just became habit to worry. Every day, up until I graduated, one of them would drop me off and pick me up from school.”

He looked floored. “Seriously?”

I nodded. “I have a driver’s license, but I’ve driven alone only a handful of times, and only ever around town. I’ve been to movies with friends without Nana or Mom, but am required to check in immediately after the show ends.”

“But now they’re letting you move to Sonoma? How far is that?”

“Fifty miles. It’s about as close as I could be.” Regret pulsed like a twin heartbeat inside me. “I also got in to Santa Cruz, University of Oregon, and UC Santa Barbara—but it just felt too far.”

He hummed and slid his fingers into the hair at the nape of my neck, sending an electric pulse from my scalp to the base of my spine. I could feel his fingertips, the way his hand flexed. He made tiny circles with the tip of his index finger, and the sensation traveled down my body; an anticipatory thrum settled low in my navel.

“By the time I was twelve,” he said, “I was out in the barns at dawn, and then earning money mowing lawns, pitching hay, you name it. Luther and Roberta rarely had any idea where I was when I wasn’t at school or the dinner table with them. I think that kind of supervision would’ve driven me crazy.”

“Probably. It drives me crazy, and I’m used to it.”

“Could I come see you in Sonoma?”

My legs stiffened so suddenly that we tilted left. Sam’s hand came over mine on the steering lever, gently guiding us away from an oncoming boat. Once we paddled ourselves clear, he let go and looked over at me, amused. “Did I freak you out?”

I shook my head, but couldn’t manage to spit out a simple no. I mean, obviously I’d been wondering the same thing—hoping that I could see him again after we left London—but those kinds of fantasies are always so much less overwhelming as just that: fantasies. Now, not only was I imagining a dorm, a roommate, classes, and fifty miles separating me from Mom and Nana, I was imagining Sam there, too. It seemed like an infinite abyss of unknowns.

“I just had a moment where it really hit me that I’m leaving home,” I admitted, “and I’m going to be on my own. I can’t even fathom living in a new place, let alone having you come see me outside of this London bubble.”

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