Twice in a Blue Moon

He gives me a questioning look in the rearview mirror. “Why didn’t you just call the house?”

“Don’t have the number,” I lie. That’s not exactly true. Sam had to change his number when the news broke, but the studio has it. I’m sure Marco does as well. It’s just that this is something I needed to do in person. I’m not a writer like Sam is; I couldn’t put what I want to say in an email or a text message. But I know how to love him in person. I don’t think I needed to know Roberta and Luther’s story in order to know that love like that can exist, but if it hadn’t been for Ellen, I’d never have figured it out.

I climb out of the car and reach for my bag. “Thanks.”

The driver waves in reply and pulls away, and I’m left staring down the long dirt road, framed by white split-rail fences on either side. I step forward, my bag heavy on my shoulder, the road damp beneath my feet.

It’s uncanny, really. Although Milkweed ostensibly takes place in Iowa, the set was designed to look like Luther and Roberta’s farm. It was beautiful, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing. Staring down the lane is a little like looking in a fun house mirror: the pieces are all where they should be, but everything here seems at once bigger, smaller, brighter, older. The apple orchard on Ruby Farm was too big; this one is maybe only two dozen trees. The replica barn was too small and weathered; in reality, the barn here is massive and painted a fresh, brilliant red.

Behind me, hills stretch as far as you can see, and the grass is dotted with grazing cattle and sheep.

My stomach twists a little tighter with every step. What if he isn’t here? What if he isn’t happy to see me? What if he is? I haven’t exactly worked out what I need to tell him, how to take the feelings inside me and turn them into words. But I want to take back control of this story. I don’t want Dad or Sam leading the way on this. Not even Marco. I want to be the one to tell the world the truth, but it’s terrifying to imagine doing that: putting my feelings out in the world for everyone to read. It’s occurred to me more than once lately that I’ve always been better at living someone else’s life than living my own. But here I am, walking down this long road the same way Luther did all those times, all those years ago.

As the road curves, the beautiful two-story farmhouse stands proudly in the distance. A wide porch wraps around the yellow building, and I half expect to see Ellen Meyer fixing her washing machine on the back lawn.

My heart knocks against my chest as I near the house and my feet crunch over the dirt road. The November evening is cold—it’s probably forty degrees out—and the sun has just dipped below the tree line, turning the sky a flirtatious cornflower blue. I can barely make out two black rocking chairs looking out over the orchard. Did Roberta and Luther ever sit outside there together, talking, rocking, making each other laugh?

A small dog bounds off the porch as I approach. He barks, at first in warning and then happily as, I guess, I am determined to not be threatening. I drop my bag and kneel, holding out a hand to see if he’ll come closer.

The screen door squeaks open and then falls closed again with an echoing slap.

“Rick!” a deep voice calls, and when I look up I see Sam moving down the steps. I straighten, pushing my knit cap higher up on my forehead, and he stops cold in his tracks.

He’s wearing worn jeans and old brown boots. The sleeves of his blue flannel are rolled up his forearms, and a dark beanie is covering his head. My eyes never tire of looking at him.

“Tate?” he asks, squinting as if I might be some kind of a mirage.

I don’t know what the right thing to say is right now, but the words that come out first—“Your dog’s name is Rick?”—are probably not it.

He tilts his head, reaching up to scratch his jaw. “Yeah. Rick Deckard.” He doesn’t add more; he just stares like he’s not sure what to do with me.

“From Bladerunner? That is fucking delightful.”

There’s no warning when he jogs the few steps to reach me and scoops me up into his arms. He’s trembling, arms wrapped tightly around my waist as he buries his face in my neck. “Oh my God. You’re here.”

I let myself breathe him in, and my arms find their way around his neck. “Hey.”

He walks in a small circle, around and around, and then presses his mouth to my neck before setting me down. But he doesn’t back away; I have to tilt my chin to look up at him.

We stare at each other for a good ten seconds, just taking it all in. “I got back from lunch with my dad,” I say finally, “and you’d already left the farm.”

“Gwen hustled me out of there.”

I shrug. “Still. It sucked. I felt like you ditched me again.”

He winces at this, and then bends, pressing his mouth to mine for two perfect seconds. “I don’t like that.”

“I didn’t, either.”

“I assumed they’d tell you that I was worried about you. That they’d sent me home to get away from the madness and not make things worse, I suspect.”

“Only a few crew members were left on the farm when we got back. I had no idea whether you were worried or not.”

“I realize,” he says, and his gaze is level, totally calm, “how easy it was for me to disappear last time. No one knew I was involved. I made you take all the heat. This time, it was my name dragged through mud, and I had to reckon with that.” He looks down, kicking a stick away, onto the lawn. “I figured if you called or wanted to talk, I’d be up for that. But if you didn’t, I’d understand.” He looks at me and grins. “Then I got impatient, but you wouldn’t return my call.”

“You took a long time to call me that first time,” I reply. The truth was always so easy when it was just us like this. “And I let it get in my head.”

He wipes his mouth, laughing. “This is some mess we made.”

“This is some mess my dad made.”

Sam’s eyes go wide. “No shit?”

“He’s eating it up, I bet.”

“You haven’t talked to him?”

I shake my head. “I still can’t believe he sold me out like that. Marco has us—me, Mom, Nana—sequestered away in South Carolina.”

“You all’re pretty good at hiding.”

I can’t read his tone. It doesn’t sound chastising exactly, but it worms under my skin, making me uncomfortable anyway.

“I don’t want to hide,” I admit. “I don’t want this story to die out because we’ve disappeared. I want to face it head on.”

He tilts his chin up, grinning. “Do you, now?”

“I mean, me and you.” I swallow past a lump in my throat. “I want to take over the narrative. If you want that.”

Sam takes a small step closer and it brings his body right up against mine. “I want that.”

“I found your emails.”

His brow rises. “Yeah?”

“And I want that,” I tell him, adding at his small, confused frown, “I want free-range, bottomless love.”

His grin sneaks in from the side. “You know what they say about this farm?”

“What’s that?”

He bends, and inhales just behind my ear, smelling my hair. “That anyone who walks down that road in search of love finds it.”

“Is that right?”

Sam’s mouth is on my neck now, gently biting his way up. He hums in confirmation.

I stretch against him; he’s so warm. “Well, that’s pretty handy.”

“How so?”

“I was just wandering down the road, hoping to find it and—lucky me—you stepped out. You’ll do just fine.”

With a laugh, Sam picks me up, hauling me over his shoulder, and carries me toward the farmhouse. The sky had settled into a deep starlit canvas overhead.

“Have you ever seen the stars from this exact spot on earth?” he asks me.

My heart squeezes and then stretches into a thunder. “No, sir.”

He sets me down on a thick patch of lawn and then lowers himself down, patting the grass beside his hip.

“Come on,” he whispers, patting the ground again. The moon is high and full, the sky is an explosion of stars. I settle down next to him, drugged by the heat of his body curved around mine.

“Come right on down here with me, honey,” he says, “and let’s look at the sky.”