Twice in a Blue Moon

“We just landed, actually,” I said.

He looked at me, smiling beneath his bushy, old-man-pornstache. “Where you all from?”

“Guerneville,” I said, clarifying, “about an hour north of San Francisco.”

He dropped a hand on the table so heavily that Nana startled and his water rippled inside the glass. “San Francisco!” Luther’s smile grew wider, flashing a collection of uneven teeth. “I’ve got a friend out there. Ever met a Doug Gilbert?”

Nana hesitated, brows tucking down before saying, “We . . . no. We’ve not met him.”

“Unless he drives up north for the best blackberry pie in California, we probably haven’t crossed paths.” I said it proudly, but Nana frowned at me like I’d just given them some scandalously identifying information.

Sam’s eyes gleamed with amusement. “I hear San Francisco is a pretty big city, Grandpa.”

“True, true.” Luther laughed at this, at himself. “We have a small farm in Eden, Vermont, just north of Montpelier. Everyone knows everyone there, I suppose.”

“We sure know how that is,” Nana said politely before surreptitiously peeking down at the dinner menu.

I struggled to find something to say, to make us seem as friendly as they were. “What do you farm?”

“Dairy,” Luther told me, his smile encouraging and bright. “And since everyone does it, we also do a bit of sweet corn and apples. We’re here celebrating Sam’s twenty-first birthday, just three days ago.” Luther reached across the table, clutching Sam’s hand. “Time is flying by, I tell you that.”

Nana finally looked back up. “My Tate just graduated from high school.” A tight cringe worked its way down my spine at the way she emphasized my age, glancing pointedly at Sam. He might have been twice my size, but twenty-one is only three years older than eighteen. Going by her expression, you’d think he’d been practically middle-aged. “She’s starting college in the fall.”

Luther coughed wetly into his napkin. “Whereabouts?”

“Sonoma State,” I said.

He seemed to be working on a follow-up question, but Nana impatiently flagged down the waiter. “I’ll have the fish and chips,” she ordered, without waiting for him to come to a full stop at the table. “But if you could put them on separate plates, I’d appreciate it. And a side salad, no tomatoes. Carrots only if they aren’t shredded.”

I caught Sam’s eye and registered the sympathetic amusement there. I wanted to explain that she owns a restaurant but hates eating out. She’s picky enough to make her food perfect, but never trusts anyone else to do the same. After he gave me a small smile, we both looked away.

Nana held up a hand to keep the waiter’s attention from turning to me yet. “And dressing on the side. Also, I’ll have a glass of chardonnay and an ice water. With ice.” She lowered her voice to explain to me—but not so quietly that everyone didn’t hear it too: “Europeans have a thing about ice. I’ll never understand it.”

With a tiny grimace, the waiter turned to me. “Miss?”

“Fish and chips.” I grinned and handed him my menu.

The waiter left, and a tense, aware silence filled his wake before Luther leaned back in his chair, letting out a roaring laugh. “Well now. I guess we know who the princess is!”

Nana became a prune again. Great.

Sam leaned forward, planting two solid arms on the table. “How long you here for?”

“Two weeks,” Nana told him, pulling her hand sanitizer out of her purse.

“We’re doing a month,” Luther said, and beside him, Sam picked up a piece of bread from the basket at the center of the table and wolfed it down in a single, clean bite. I worried they’d ordered a while ago, and our appearance had really delayed the delivery of their meal. “Here for a couple weeks as well,” Luther continued, “then up to the Lake District. Where are you staying in London?”

“The Marriott.” My voice carried the same reverence I’d use to tell him we were staying in a castle. “Right on the river.”

“Really?” Sam’s eyes darted to my mouth and back up. “So are we.”

Nana’s voice cut in like a razor: “Yes, but we’ll be moving as soon as we can.”

My jaw dropped, and irritation rose in a salty tide in my throat. “Nana, we don’t—”

“Moving hotels?” Luther asked. “Why on earth would you leave that place? It’s beautiful, historic—It’s got a view of everything you could possibly want.”

“Our room doesn’t. In my book, it’s unacceptable to pay what we’re paying for two weeks, just to look at a row of parked cars.” She immediately handed the water glass back to the waiter when he put it in front of her. “Ice, please.”

She’s tired, I reminded myself, and drew in a deep, calming breath. She’s stressed because this is expensive and we’re far away from home and Mom is alone there.

I watched the waiter turn and walk back toward the bar; I was mortified by her demands and her mood. A tight, leaden ball pinballed around inside my gut, but Sam laughed into another sip of his own water, and when I looked at him, he grinned. He had my favorite kind of eyes: mossy green backlit by a knowing gleam.

“This is Tate’s first trip to London,” Nana continued, apparently ignoring the fact that it was her first trip here, too. “I’ve been planning this for years. She should have a view of the river.”

“You’re right,” Sam said quietly, and didn’t even hesitate when he added: “You should take our room. Twelfth floor. We have a view of the river, the London Eye, and Big Ben.”

Twelfth floor. Same as us.

Nana blanched. “We couldn’t possibly.”

“Why not?” Luther asked. “We’re barely ever there. The better views are outside, when you’re out and about.”

“Well of course we won’t be sitting in the room the entire time,” Nana protested defensively, “but I assumed if we’re paying—”

“I insist,” Luther broke in. “After dinner, we’ll trade rooms. It’s settled.”

“I don’t like it.” Nana sat by the window while I shoved all my clothes back in my suitcase. Her purse on her lap and the packed suitcase at her feet told me she’d already decided to trade rooms, she just needed to make a show of protest. “Who offers to give up a view of the river and Big Ben for a view of the street?”

“They seem nice.”

“First, we don’t even know them. Second, even with nice men you don’t want to be obligated.”

“Obligated? Nana, they’re trading hotel rooms with us, not paying us for sex.”

Nana turned her face toward the window. “Don’t be crude, Tate.” She fingered the organza curtain for a few quiet beats. “What if they find out who you are?”

There it was. Reason number one I’d never traveled east of Colorado before today. “I’m eighteen. Does it even matter anymore?”

She started to argue but I held up a hand, giving in. It mattered so much to Nana that I stayed hidden; it wasn’t worth pushing back.

“I’m just saying,” I said, zipping up my bag and rolling it toward the door. “They’re being nice. We’re here for two weeks, and glaring at that street will drive you crazy. Which means it will drive me crazy. Let’s take the room.” She didn’t move, and I returned a few steps closer to her. “Nana, you know you want the view. Come on.”

Finally she stood, saying, “If you’d be happier with it,” before leading me out. We fell silent as our suitcases rolled dully behind us, wheels rhythmically tripping over the seams in the sections of thick carpet.

“I just want your vacation to be perfect,” she said over her shoulder.

“I know, Nana. I want yours to be perfect too.”

She hiked her JCPenney purse higher on her shoulder, and I felt a pang of protectiveness. “It’s our first trip to London,” she said, “and—”

“It’s going to be amazing, don’t worry.” The café did well for a café in a small town, but it was all relative; we’d never been rolling in cash. I couldn’t even fathom how long it took her to save for all this. I mean, I’d seen her itinerary and it was packed: museums, Harrods, shows, dinners out. We were going to spend more in two weeks than Nana probably spent in a year.

“I’m already so excited to be here,” I said.

Sam and Luther emerged from their room: Luther was rolling a bag behind him, and Sam had a duffel slung over his shoulder. Once again I experienced a weird physical leap inside at the sight of him. He seemed to completely fill the hallway. He’d pulled a worn blue plaid shirt over the T-shirt he wore earlier, but at some point he’d taken off his green Converse, and now padded his way down the hall only in socks. It was oddly scandalous.

Sam lifted his chin in greeting when he saw me, and smiled. I don’t know if it was the smile or the socks—the hint of being undressed—but a shiver worked its way down my spine.

I’m here for museums and history.

I’m here for the adventure and experience.

I’m not here for boys.

Sam was right there, four, three, two feet away. He blocked out the ambient light coming in from a row of narrow windows—I barely came up to his shoulder. Was this what it felt like to be a moon orbiting a much larger planet?

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