Twice in a Blue Moon

My thoughts tripped on the word beautiful.

Torn, my fingers searched out the thread on the hem of my fraying sweater, but I was distracted when Sam reached out to pluck a blade of grass from my hair. The tip of his finger grazed the curve of my ear. Heat blazed from the point of contact and down across my cheek, scalding my neck. Could he see my blush in the dark?

He waited one . . . two . . . three seconds before he rolled onto his back again.

“Anyway, I guess that’s why I said that about Luther. I sure can’t talk about it at home. He and Roberta are the bedrock of our community, and for as independent as she is, I don’t know how Roberta would survive without him. If he’s sick, I’m sure that’s partly why he hasn’t told anyone. Like I said, I think I needed to put it out there.” Scratching his jaw, he added, “Does that make sense? Saying it out loud makes it real, means I can work on dealing with it.”

What he was saying, what he was describing—it was like a deep gulp of cold water, or the bursting, first bite into a perfect apple. I knew, in some ways, that my life had been entirely constructed as a safe little bubble. Dad was loaded, but I wasn’t sure we even took money from him, because we’d never had a lot. We had enough. I had freedom within a small geographic range, two of the best friends I could have ever hoped for, and a mother and grandmother who adored me.

All I had to do was keep the secret.

The problem was that I didn’t want to anymore.

“I’m not supposed to talk about this,” I said, and I could feel the shift in his focus, how he was really looking at me now.

“You’re not supposed to?” He held up a hand, and quickly added, “Okay, in that case—”

I shoved the words out: “My dad is Ian Butler.”

Even if he was going to let me off the hook, I wanted to say it. I wanted to name it, like he did, so it could stop being this thing that threatened to burst out of me.

Sam was quiet before he pushed up onto an elbow, eclipsing the stars as he hovered over me. “Shut up,” he said, laughing.

I laughed along with him. I’d never said that sentence out loud before; it sounded ridiculous to me, too. “Okay.”

“Wait.” He held a hand out, palm down. “You’re serious?”

I trembled, nodding. I knew I’d just dropped a bomb—my father was arguably the biggest movie star of his generation. He’d won back-to-back Oscars twice, was constantly on magazine covers and entertainment news shows everywhere, and I sometimes wondered whether there was a human alive who hadn’t at least heard his name. But all I could imagine right then was the way Sam looked above me.

The way he’d look on top of me.

“Holy shit,” he whispered. “You’re Tate Butler.”

It’d been ten years since someone called me that. “I go by Tate Jones, but yeah.”

Sam blew out a breath, eyes cataloging every one of my features: the oval face and high cheekbones, the beauty mark near my lip, whiskey-colored eyes, heart-shaped mouth, and dimpled smile that made Ian Butler the only man who’d been People’s Sexiest Man Alive a record three times. “How did I not notice it before? You look just like him.”

I knew I did. I used to watch his movies in secret and marvel over seeing my face on the screen in front of me.

“Everyone wondered where you went.” Sam reached forward, gently tugging at a wayward strand of my hair. “And here you are.”





two

“WHAT DID YOU DO last night?” Nana spooned some melon onto her plate and moved down the line, to the tiny, decadent pastries.

The second to last thing I wanted to do was have next-morning processing with Nana about Sam. The last thing I wanted to do was lie to her about him. My heart took off in a gallop. “Just hung out in the garden.”

She looked over her shoulder at me. “Is it pretty?”

I could still see the looming shadows of the manicured trees, still feel the chill at my back and the heat of Sam on the lawn beside me. “Yeah.”

My answer was intentionally lackluster. If I told her what it had really been like she might have wanted to see for herself, and I didn’t want her anywhere near the scene of the crime.

“How late were you up?”

She asked this kind of semi-controlling question so habitually, like my schedule was hers to manage. Would it still be like that when I’d left for college and she didn’t know the parents of every person I went to school with? I knew she’d hate my answer, too: I don’t know how late we were up. That first morning, my eyelids felt dry and wrinkly. My limbs were slow. I wanted to sleep, but more than sleep, I wanted to see Sam again.

He and I stayed up well past midnight, talking. It started heavy—with his details about Luther, about Danya, and Michael—but once we touched on my parents, and my past, he pivoted. He didn’t ask a single thing about my personal life in LA. Instead, we talked about movies, and pets, and favorite kind of pie, and what we wanted to do today when the sun came back up. He was right that it was easy to talk to him because who cares what he knows? I’ll never see him again after this. I wanted to capture the night on film and show it to Mom and Nana later to say, See? I can tell a stranger who I am and they don’t turn into an obsessed maniac and run to the press. He didn’t ask me for Dad’s phone number, okay?

I fell asleep next to him on the lawn, and when I woke up he was carrying me inside. In his arms.

“Late?” Nana prompted.

“Pretty late,” I agreed. “It was nice out.”

My stomach dropped at the memory of feeling Sam’s arm banded beneath my knees, the other curved around my shoulders, and the steady pace of his footsteps across the marble lobby. I woke up with my face pressed to the collar of his flannel shirt and my arms around his neck.

Oh my God. You don’t have to carry me.

I don’t mind.

Did I fall asleep?

We both did.

I’m sorry.

Are you kidding? I came to London and slept with the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen. I get to say that now.

He put me down once we were inside the elevator, but it was a slow, intimate process. My front sliding along his chest until my feet landed safely on the floor. He kept his arm around my shoulders, one huge hand stretched across, cupped possessively on the other side. I wanted to ask exactly how many girls he’d carried. How many he’d made lose their minds over his thick arms and broad chest, his honesty, and the tiny comma scar under his lip. How many girls he’d slept with, on the grass or otherwise.

Thankfully, Nana moved on. “I’ve scheduled the British Museum for us today.” She nodded so that I’d follow her to the table. In my daydreaming, I only managed to put a piece of bread and cheese on my plate. “Then have lunch at Harrods.”

The sleep—not to mention the view—she scored last night seemed to have served her well: she was smiling in that modest, contented way of hers and wearing her favorite red cardigan from Penney’s, which could only mean she was in a decent mood.

It was either that or the simple truth that Nana loved nothing more than a schedule. Other than Christmas and New Year’s Day, she opened Jude’s at six thirty every morning and closed at four every afternoon, on the dot. And in between, she prepped pie crust, put in her vendor orders, checked and double-checked the cash registers, butchered and marinated the chicken in buttermilk and paprika for frying the next day, made all the side dishes fresh, and slow cooked the brisket while I washed dishes, mopped floors, and set tables. Mom made lemonade, peeled apples, peaches, and potatoes, made lemon curd, and then took whatever leftover food we had from the lunch crowd down the road to Monte Rio, where the same people waited every night for the one meal they’d get that day.

Nana waved at someone over my shoulder, pulling me out of my sleepy thoughts. I assumed she was flagging down the waiter for some coffee, but Luther’s voice rang out across the restaurant: “Our two favorite ladies!”

Heads turned, and the girls at the table beside ours gaped at Sam as he made his way over. A weight dropped from my chest to my stomach. I knew I’d see him again—hoped I’d see him again—but I didn’t think it would be over breakfast with Nana, before I’d had a chance to remind him not to mention what I’d said about Dad.

“Okay if we join you?” Sam asked.

He must have directed the question at me, because a beat of silence passed before Nana jumped in: “Of course. We just sat down.”

Across from me, beside Sam, Nana pulled her napkin onto her lap, smiling up at him, and then over to Luther, who sat down to my left, patting my knee affectionately.

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