Twice in a Blue Moon

I finally worked up the nerve to drag my eyes to Sam’s face. His arms were enormous—an anatomy lesson in individual muscles, tendons, and veins. His blue shirt stretched across his chest—Bob Dylan’s face was mildly distorted by pectorals. There were a few lines on his left cheek, like he’d come straight from the pillow to the hotel restaurant.

Although he looked as exhausted as I felt, he met my gaze with a lazy, flirty grin and I was reminded again of the way our bodies dragged against each other when he put me down last night. I hoped the flash of heat that blew across my skin didn’t show on my face, because I could feel Nana looking at me.

He blinked away and nodded when the waiter asked if he’d like coffee, and then lifted a hand to his stomach, mumbling, “Starving,” before wandering away toward the buffet.

The teenagers at the table next to ours followed him with their eyes glued to his back, all the way to the spread of meats and cheeses. I couldn’t blame them: Sam Brandis was hot.

Beside me, Luther seemed content to enjoy his coffee, adding four packs of sugar and a generous helping of cream. “I hope you woke up to a beautiful view?”

“We sure did.” Nana shifted uncomfortably in her seat across from him. I knew her well enough to understand that she’d already thanked him—she didn’t want to have to say it over and over. “Many thanks . . . again.”

Waving a hand to dismiss this, Luther lifted his cup to his lips and blew away the steam. “Women care more about those things than men do.”

I felt a defensive wave rise up inside me, and saw it mirrored in Nana’s expression. She forced her face into an amiable smile. “Hmm.”

Luther tilted his head to me. “These two were out late last night, huh?”

Tires screeched, laying down black rubber tracks in my brain.

Nana went still, before tilting her head in question. “These . . . two?”

He glanced from me to where Sam was presumably tearing his way through the buffet. “Our grandchildren seem to have hit it off.” I would have taken a moment to appreciate Luther’s delighted laugh if he hadn’t been currently destroying my life.

Nana looked at me again, eyes sharp. “Really.”

At this, Luther’s delight visibly wilted. “Oh. Oh, dear. I hope I haven’t gotten Tate into any trouble,” he said. “I’m a light sleeper and woke up when Sam walked in around three.”


Nana’s eyebrows disappeared beneath her bangs. “Three?”

I pressed my hands to my forehead just as Sam returned to the table with a plate piled high with eggs, sausage, potatoes, bread, and fruit. I’d never stayed out past curfew—eleven—and Nana thought that was too late of a curfew.

“Three?” Nana asked him. “Is this true?”

Sam slowly lowered himself into his chair, looking around the table in confusion. “Three what?”

It was so unbelievably awkward.

Nana pinned him with her deeply intimidating brown eyes. “You were out with my granddaughter until three in the morning?”

“Well, yeah,” he said, “but we were asleep for a lot of it.” He did a double take at her deepening horror. “On the lawn. Just—sleeping.”

Nana’s face had slowly gone from ashen to pink to red, and Sam winced over to me, stage-whispering, “I’m not helping, am I?”

“Nope.” My voice echoed from where I was trying to crawl into my cup of tea.

“Tate,” Nana hissed, “you are not allowed to stay out with strangers in the garden of a hotel until three o’clock in the morning!”

I was having flashbacks to the time Nana walked in on me and Jesse tangled on my bed, shirtless, and chased him out of the house with a spatula.

And the time she found us making out in his car and wrote down his license plate and called Ed Schulpe down at the police station, who came and rapped his heavy police flashlight against the window, scaring the crap out of us.

Even the time she found us lying innocently on the couch watching television—barely touching—and reminded me that high school relationships end when high school does because there’s a whole big world out there.

“I know, Nana.”

“Do you?”

Luther and Sam both fixed their attention to the tablecloth.

My jaw clenched. “Yes.”

“Are you having fun, muffin?” Mom asked, and although I’d spoken to her on the phone thousands of times, knowing how far away she was made her sound really far away, and I got a mild pang of homesickness.

“So far, yeah.” I peeked at the closed bathroom door, lowering my voice. “Just one day in, and Nana is still calibrating.”

“Meaning,” Mom guessed, “that Nana is being uptight and miserable?”

I laughed and sat up straighter when I heard the toilet flush. “She’s okay. We’re headed to a museum today, I think. And lunch at Harrods. Then Les Miz!”

“I know you’re dying for the theater, but oh my God: Harrods!” She paused before quietly adding, “Tater Tot, Harrods is really nice. Try to have a good attitude.”

“I do have a good attitude!”

“Good.” Mom sounded unconvinced. “And make Nana buy herself something fancy.” Something clattered in the background—a pan against the stove, maybe—and even though I wasn’t hungry, my mouth watered for home cooking. I did the brief math—it was midnight there. I wondered whether she was getting a snack before bed, wearing her favorite flowery turquoise silk pajama pants and I’m A Proud Artist T-shirt.

“You tell her to buy herself something fancy,” I told her. “I’m not saying that. I’m already highly aware of how much this trip is costing.”

She laughed. “Don’t sweat the money.”

“I’ll try, somewhere between handling Nana’s controlling questions and having a good attitude.”

Mom, as ever, was unwilling to engage in bickering. “Well, before you go, tell me something good.”

“I met a boy last night,” I said, and amended, “Well, maybe more guy? Man?”


“Guy-man. He just turned twenty-one.”

My mother, ever the romantic, became dramatically—comically—interested. “Is he cute?”

A twisting ache worked its way through me. I missed Mom. I missed her easy encouragement that I find adventure in safe, tiny bites. I missed the way she balanced Nana’s overprotective tendencies without undermining her. I missed the way she understood crushes, and boys, and being a teenager. I didn’t actually think she would be angry with me for telling Sam about her and Dad—not anymore, now that I was officially an adult—but on the phone, across an ocean, was not the time or place to open that can of worms.

I’d tell her everything when I get home.

“He’s really cute. He’s like eight feet tall.” As expected, Mom oooh’d appreciatively. Just then, Nana turned the water off in the bathroom, making me rush to get through it. “Just wanted to tell you.”

Mom’s voice was gentle. “I’m glad you told me. I miss you, muffin. Be safe.”

“I miss you too.”

“Don’t let Nana make you paranoid,” she added just before we hung up. “No one is going to chase you down in London.”

Sam and I met on the lawn again that night.

We didn’t plan it. We didn’t even see each other after breakfast. But after Nana and I returned from the show, I snuck out into the garden beneath the sky full of stars, and Sam’s long body was once again stretched out on the grass, feet crossed at the ankle. He was a life raft in the middle of a green ocean.

“I wondered if you’d come,” he said, turning at the sound of my footsteps.

I’m not sure I could stay away, I wanted to say. Instead, I said nothing, and lowered myself down next to him.

Immediately I was warm.

We were both smarter that second night, layering up: He was wearing track pants and a Johnson State sweatshirt. I was wearing yoga pants and a 49ers hoodie. Our socks were bright white against the dark grass. My feet could have worn his feet as shoes and still have had plenty of room.

“I hope I didn’t get you in trouble with Jude this morning,” he said.

He did a little, but it wasn’t worth dwelling on because thankfully, Jude didn’t. After we left the hotel, she was swept up in the Tube, in the museum, in the glitter and pomp of lunch at Harrods. And then we walked, for hours, before ending the day with a production of Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre. My feet were still vibrating with the echo of my steps on pavement. My head was full of all the information Nana tried to cram in there: the history she’d read of royalty, and art, and music, and literature. But my heart was the fullest; I was absolutely besotted with the story of Valjean, Cosette, Javert, and Marius.

“She’s fine. And she’s asleep,” I reassured Sam. “I think she only got one foot moisturized before she nodded off.”

“Think she’ll set an alarm to make sure you’re back in the room by midnight?”

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