Twice in a Blue Moon

“Thanks again,” I mumbled.

“Are you kidding?” His eyes followed me as we passed. “Anything to make you smile.”

The new room was exactly the same as our old one, except for one important detail: the view. Nana unpacked, hanging her clothes in the narrow closet, lining her makeup and lotions on the wide granite counter. Against the swirling black and cream, her drugstore blush and eye shadow palettes looked dusty and faded.

Within only a few minutes she was in bed, beginning her ritual of foot cream, alarm setting, and reading. But despite the time difference and long flight, I was still buzzing. We were in London. Not just down the freeway in Santa Rosa or San Francisco—we were actually across an entire ocean. I was exhausted, but it was in that speedy, jittery way where I didn’t want to sleep. In fact, I didn’t think I ever wanted to sleep again. I knew if I got into bed now my legs would wrestle with the sheets anyway: hot, cold, hot, cold.

Anything to make you smile.

I hated to admit it, but Nana was right: the view was spectacular. It made me itch to slip out like a shadow into the night and explore. Right there, just outside the window was the Thames and Big Ben, and just below was a manicured garden. The grounds were dark, spotted with tiny lights and fluttering shadow; it looked like a maze of lawn and trees.

“Think I’ll sit outside and read for a bit,” I said, grabbing a book and trying to hide how jittery I felt. “Just in the garden.”

Nana studied me over the top of her reading glasses, practiced hands rhythmically rubbing in hand cream. “By yourself?” I nodded, and she hesitated before adding, “Don’t leave the hotel. And don’t talk to anybody.”

I kept my tone even. “I won’t.”

The real directive remained unspoken in her eyes: Don’t talk about your parents.

My own answered in kind: When have I ever?

I could legally drink in England, and part of me really wanted to sneak into the hotel bar, order a beer, and imagine the day when I’d be here on my own, untethered from Mom and Nana and the weight of their pasts and the burden of their expectations. I wondered if I might look like I belonged . . . or more like a rebellious teenager trying on adulthood for size. Looking down at my tight jeans, my baggy cardigan, my battered Vans, I suspected I already knew the answer.

So, with my book in hand, I bypassed the bar and headed out the wide set of doors on the ground floor. The garden was irresistible: it had that tidy, manicured look that makes every shrub look like it needs to be brought in at night, too precious for the elements. Yellowed lights sat at even intervals, each lighting a cone of brilliant green grass. The city was just beyond the shrubbery and wrought iron walls, but the air smelled of damp ground and moss.

I’d been waiting my entire life to go on a trip like this, to be away from home and the secrets we kept there, but so far, this eerie, empty garden was the highlight of my day.

“The best view is down here.”

I jumped, ducking like there’d been gunfire, and looked toward the voice. Sam was there, stretched across the manicured lawn with his hands tucked behind his head and his feet crossed at the ankle.

His green shoes were back on. For the first time, I noticed a tiny rip in the knee of his jeans with just a patch of skin peeking through. A slip of his stomach was visible where his shirt rode up.

I placed a hand over my chest; the organ beneath seemed to be thrashing to get out. “What are you doing on the ground?”

His voice was low and slow, like warm syrup. “Relaxing.”

“Isn’t that what your bed is for?”

His mouth turned up at the corners. “There aren’t any stars in my room,” he explained, and nodded toward the sky. He blinked over to me then, amused smile melting into a full-on grin. “Besides, it’s barely nine and Luther is already snoring.”

This made me laugh. “So is my grandma.”

Sam patted the grass at his hip, and then pointed up. “Come over here. Have you ever seen the stars?”

“We do have stars in California, you know.”

He laughed playfully, and it set my nervous system on high alert. “But have you ever seen them from this exact spot on earth?”

He had me there. “No.”

“Then come here,” he repeated quietly, more urgently.

I knew every teenager was supposed to have fallen in love at first sight at least ten times by the time they hit eighteen, but I’d never really been the swooning type before. I didn’t believe in that kind of chemistry. But near Sam, I guess I started to—at least lust at first sight. Let’s not get crazy. I’d only seen him three times, but each time those tiny, immeasurable reactions—the collision of atoms that happen invisibly between two bodies—got more intense. The sensation of holding my breath grew; the air started to feel deliciously high and tight in my throat.

But Nana’s directives—spoken and unspoken—echoed in my ears. Don’t leave the hotel. Be careful. Don’t talk to anybody.

I glanced around us at the looming, immaculate trees. “Is this garden really for lying on our backs and stargazing? It feels a little”—I gestured around at the perfectly sculpted boxwoods and precise edges where lawn met stone—“prim.”

Sam looked at me. “What’s the worst that could happen? Someone tells us to get off the grass?”

Vibrating from the inside, I walked over, lowering myself beside him. The ground was damp and cold against my back; the chill seeped in through the tiny holes in my sweater. I pulled my sleeves over my hands and pressed them, shaking, to my stomach.

“That’s good. Now look up.” He pointed to the sky, the movement bringing his shoulder in contact with mine. “London is one of the most heavily light-polluted cities in the world, but look at that. Orion. And there? Jupiter.”

“I don’t see it.”

“I know,” he whispered. “Because your eyes are still inside, looking out the window. Bring them out here, where it’s dark. Down here, the bushes block the light from the hotel, the streetlights . . . even the London Eye.”

He was such a presence next to me, so solid and warm, that it was impossible to focus on anything but him. Being this close reminded me of how I felt standing at the bay in San Diego when I was little, watching a cruise ship approach from a distance, and thinking how unnatural it seemed for something so big to be able to move at all, let alone so easily.

“What’re you reading?” he asked, gesturing loosely to the book I’d forgotten as soon as I set it down on the grass.

“Oh, it’s—just a biography.” I slid my hand over it, trying to pretend like I was wiping it off, but in reality I was totally hiding the cover from him.

“Oh yeah? Who?”

“Rita Hayworth?” I didn’t know why I said it like a question. Sam didn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would judge either my reading choices or my obsession with all things Hollywood, but it was such a juicy biography, I couldn’t help but feel like a rubbernecker.

And a little hypocritical, if I’m being honest.

Apparently Rita Hayworth was much less interesting to Sam, because he changed the subject entirely. “Your grandma is a trip.”

Surprised, I turned my head to look at him, but when he looked back at me, I realized how close we were and blinked away. “Yeah. She gets a little, uh, tense when we’re away from home.”

He didn’t reply, and defensiveness for Nana rose in my throat. “But I mean, she’s not usually like that.”

“Really?” He sounded disappointed, and I could feel him looking at me again. So close. I’d never been this close to someone who was so obviously a man, and who so obviously relished that I was a woman. In comparison, my ex-boyfriend Jesse seemed like a scrawny teenager, even when he wrapped his arms around me, even when his lips met my neck, and moved lower.

“I like her like that,” he said, and I blinked back to the conversation, cheeks warm.


“Not fussy. Clear. She knows what she wants, doesn’t she?”

I laughed. “Oh, absolutely. And she’s not afraid to tell you.”

“She reminds me of Roberta.” He paused, smiling up at the sky.


“My grandma.”

I glanced back toward the hotel. “Luther’s wife?”


“Is she here with you?”

He made a little grunt that sounded like no. “At the farm. She doesn’t travel.”


“Not really.” He shrugged.

“My mom’s like that.” The words were out before I could take them back, and a brush fire of panic flared to life beneath my ribs.


I hummed, noncommittal, and he returned his attention to the sky.

“Yeah, I guess Roberta has everything she needs in Vermont,” he said.

I attempted to steer us back to safer territory. “Then why did you and Luther come to London?”

“Luther always wanted to go.”

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