Twice in a Blue Moon

“She might . . .” It hadn’t even occurred to me that she would do that, but it should have. That was absolutely the kind of precaution Nana would take to make sure I was safe. And midnight—ha. If an eleven o’clock curfew was considered late, midnight would be scandalous.

God, I was so torn. On the one hand, what else could I do to prove to her that I wasn’t Mom? I wasn’t going to run away to the big city, get married at eighteen and pregnant soon after, chase fame and find heartache. I also wasn’t going to tip off the paparazzi and get us all swarmed on opposite sides of the world. I got why she was nervous—she lived through the chaos of my parents’ marriage dissolving and remembered the specifics far better than I did—but it was getting harder and harder to live under a constant veil of paranoia.

On the other hand, would being a little like Mom really be so terrible? Sometimes Nana acted like Mom couldn’t possibly take care of herself, but that hasn’t ever been true. It was like Nana saw Mom’s pure spirit as a weakness, but Mom found joy in every tiny moment and had the enormous heart of a romantic. Nana might not have relished the decade Mom spent with Dad, but without him, there’d be no me.

“I probably won’t stay out quite as late,” I admitted, pulling myself out of my mental spiral.

Sam sounded both teasing and disappointed when he whispered, “But I liked being out late with you.”

“I’ll sleep in my bed,” I said, grinning at him. Why had I bothered with lip gloss and blush before coming outside? My face was bright red even without it.

“Now that’s a shame.”

I stared up at the sky, unsure what to say and wondering if he could sense the way my blood seemed to simmer just beneath my skin. I didn’t remember him falling asleep last night, so I must have first. Did I curl into him, throw a leg over, press my face to his neck? Maybe he gripped my hip and pulled me closer. How long did he lie there before dozing off, too?

“Nana would murder us both if it happened again.”

“You’re eighteen, Tate. I know she worries, but you’re an adult.”

How was it that being told I was an adult made me feel even more like a child?

“I know,” I said, “but—and I realize how this sounds—my circumstances are a little different.”

In my peripheral vision, I could see him nodding. “I know.”

“I don’t think anyone cares where Mom and I are anymore, but . . .”

I trailed off and we both fell silent, leaving me begging silently for the ease of last night to return, for the effortless unrolling of conversation. Last night was like falling into a pool of warm water, of knowing you have the entire day to swim in the sun, and nothing to do at the end of it but sleep.

“What’d you do today?” I asked.

“Luther wanted to re-create the Abbey Road cover, so we found a couple of random dudes to round out the Beatles with us.” He smiled over at me. “Had lunch from some curry place, and then went shopping for some things for Roberta.”

“I feel like my day was a lot fancier, but you’re rounding the day out pretty well: those track pants are way nicer than my pajamas.”

He laughed, glancing down as if he hadn’t really noticed what he pulled on after dinner. The realization made me glow inside. For the first time all day, it didn’t occur to me to be self-conscious about what I was wearing; the only downside to our first day was my constant awareness that the department stores at the Coddingtown Mall in Santa Rosa clearly couldn’t compete with the fashion scene in London. In Guerneville, the things Mom bought for me felt edgy and modern; in London, I just felt frumpy.

Sam’s smile turned contemplative. “Can I ask you something?”

His cautious tone made me uneasy. “Sure.”

“Has your life been happy?”

God, what a loaded question. Of course I was happy, right? Mom and Nana were amazing. Charlie was the best friend I could imagine. I had everything I could possibly need.

Though maybe not everything I’d always wanted.

The thought made me feel supremely selfish.

When I didn’t immediately answer, he clarified, “I’ve been thinking about this all day. What you told me. I remember seeing your face plastered all over the cover of magazines down at the grocery store—People and whatever. Most of it wasn’t even about you, it was about your dad, and the affairs, and how your mom just . . . disappeared with you. But then I looked up Guerneville, and it seems like a really nice place and I thought, ‘Maybe they had a better life there.’ Like I did with Luther and Roberta.” He rolled to the side, propping his head on a hand, just like he did last night.

“Guerneville is nice but it’s not, like, nice,” I told him. “It’s funky and weird. There are maybe four thousand people who live there, and we all know each other.”

“That sounds enormous compared to the one thousand who live in Eden.”

I stared at him. Maybe his life had been just like mine, only on the complete other end of the country.

“So, have you been happy?” he asked again.

“Do you mean have I been happy in general or happy with my parents?”

His attention was unwavering. “Either, both.”

I chewed on my lip while I thought through it. Questions like this were such weird little provocations. I rarely thought about my life before, and I certainly tried not to feel sad about Dad. The entire world seemed to know him so much better than I did, anyway; I figured maybe when I was older, Nana wouldn’t mind so much letting me know him, too.

I’d been stupid in a lot of things—my crush on Charlie’s cousin from Hayward our freshman year, and the scores of letters I wrote him; loving Jesse but never having sex with him even though we both wanted to, simply because I never had any privacy; the early days of being so enamored with Jesse that I drifted from Charlie when she was dealing with her own family drama—but one thing I’d never done is disobeyed Nana and Mom when they asked me to be careful, to keep our seclusion a secret to protect me and Mom.

“It’s okay,” Sam said after a couple of minutes, “if you don’t want to talk about this.”

“I do.” I sat up, crossing my legs. “I just never have.”

While he waited for my words to come, Sam sat up too. He pulled up a blade of grass and drove it in and out of the lawn, like a tiny car winding around a complicated neighborhood.

I studied his downturned face, trying to memorize it. “Mom and Nana are great, but I won’t lie and say that it’s not hard to know that there’s this whole other world and life out there that I don’t get to know anything about.”

Sam nodded. “That makes sense.”

“I like Guerneville, but who’s to say I wouldn’t like LA better?” I peeked over at him, and my heart climbed a little higher in my chest. “Don’t laugh at this, okay?”

He glanced up at me, shaking his head. “I won’t.”

“Part of me really wants to be an actress.” I felt the sensation rise in my throat like it always did, like I was choking on the dream of it. “I think about acting all the time. I love reading scripts and books about the industry. If someone asked me what I want to do, and I was being honest, telling them that I want to act would explode out of me. But, God, if I said that to Nana she would flip.”

“How do you know?” he asked. “Have you talked to her about it?”

“I tried out for a few school plays,” I said. “I even got the lead in one—Chicago—but she always found a reason why it didn’t work. To be fair, our schedule at the café is really crazy, but I think mostly Nana just didn’t want me to fall in love with it.”

Sam chewed his lip and dropped his blade of grass, wiping his hands on his thighs. “I know what you mean there.” He went quiet for a few beats. “I always wanted to be a writer.”

I looked over at him, surprised. “Yeah?”

“I love to write,” he admitted, sounding almost reverent. “I have all these stories in notebooks under my bed. But it’s not an obvious choice for someone raised on a farm who’s expected to take it over someday.”

“Do Roberta and Luther know you do it?”

“I think so, but I don’t know if they realize how seriously I take it. I sent this short story I wrote to a bunch of literary magazines. I got rejected immediately from all of them, but it just made me want to try again.”

“You should.” I tried to keep the fondness from my voice, but it was hard because I felt like he was showing me a side of himself that not everyone got to see. “What would they say if you told them you wanted to write?”

“Luther would tell me writing is a hobby,” he said. “Something to enjoy but not something I can expect to pay the bills. And Roberta might not even be that enthusiastic.”

“If I told her that I wanted to take up acting once I get to college—and working in the café isn’t an issue anymore—I think Nana would flat-out tell me I’m not allowed to.”

He laughed, and it crinkled the corners of his eyes. “Yeah. I love Roberta to death, but she’s practical almost to a fault sometimes. She doesn’t have a lot of time for dreamers.”

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