Twice in a Blue Moon

“Oh, right.” I settled back beside him, and he surprised me by taking my hand. My neck and face burned with nerves, but I didn’t let go. “It was the first approved visit I had with Dad after the divorce—when I was nine. Mom bought a ticket for me to fly down. She walked me to the gate, hugged me about a thousand times before she’d let me leave with the flight attendant. She was more freaked out about me flying alone than I was, and even more freaked out that I would be hounded by the press when I was out with Dad. I landed in LA, got off the plane with the escort, and waited.”

I told Sam about the rest of it then: about feeling like I was waiting a long time—long enough for some people to figure out who I was, and for a couple of them to take pictures of me. After a while I realized the airline people were figuring out which parent to let me go home with, because Mom flew down and got me.

“I guess she was too worried about me being in LA, and in the papers. She said Dad was waiting, but he would understand, and I guess he did, because she took me home.”

Sam went still next to me when he heard this, and his lingering silence made me uneasy.

“What?” I asked, after his silence started to feel like a thick fog.

“You really haven’t read the articles about this, have you?”

I turned my head, looking over at him. He wore the expression of someone who was about to break terrible news. “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” he started, looking back up at the sky, “the story that’s out there is a little different.”

I waited for him to tell me, but it was clear that I was going to have to confirm that I really wanted to hear it. “Is it that bad?”

“I . . . it’s pretty bad?”

“Just tell me.”

“I think your mom had to fly down because your dad didn’t show up,” Sam said quietly. “At least, that’s what I read.”

A chill spread down my arms. “What?”

“I mean, there’s not a ton. But I remember it because there aren’t any pictures of you after you left LA—except for these. I saw pictures of you waiting in LAX, and witnesses who say that the gate attendants were trying to get ahold of Ian Butler, but couldn’t.”

My history crumbled the tiniest bit. Did I really want the truth? Or did I want the story that let me feel better about my silent father? I supposed it was too late now.

“He put out a statement,” Sam said, and turned back to look at me, eyes searching. “You never heard this?”

I shook my head. The only time Charlie and I worked up the nerve to look up Ian Butler online, the first hit was a strategically posed naked photo shoot for GQ, and that was enough to kill the urge to do it again.

“He basically threw his assistant under the bus, saying she had written the time down wrong, and explained how heartbroken he was.”

Shrugging, I said, “I mean, it could be . . .”

“Yeah, that’s true.” Another long pause, and my hopeful grip on this possibility loosened. “Did he fly up to see you after that?”

I closed my eyes. “Not that I know of.”

Sam cleared his throat, and the uncomfortable fallout silence felt like a weight on my chest. “I mean,” he said, clearly scrambling for something to say. “Maybe it’s for the best. Charlie sounds pretty nice but if you lived in LA, maybe your best friend would be Britney.”

I laughed, but it sounded hollow. “Totally. Maybe I would have shaved my head when she did a few months ago.”

“See? And that would have been awful. You have pretty hair.”

The compliment blew right past me. I rifled through my thoughts, digging for something more to say, a different subject to discuss, but just when I thought my heart was going to roll over in my chest from the tension, Sam rescued us both: “You know, I have this theory about cats.”

I blinked over to him, confused. “Cats?”

“Yeah, I don’t like them.”

“That’s your theory?”

He laughed. “No. Listen. I don’t like cats, but whenever I go to a house with cats, they always come over and sit on me.”

“Because they take one look at you and think you’re furniture.”

This made him laugh harder. “Sure, that’s another theory. But here’s mine: those anti-cat vibes would be weird for a human—like when we sense someone doesn’t like us, and it’s just really uncomfortable—but maybe for a cat, those weird vibes are comforting.”

“Bad vibes are good for cats?” I asked.

“Exactly. There’s something about the tension they like.”

I stewed on this one a little, thinking. “If that’s true, cats are sort of evil.”

“Without a doubt they’re evil. I’m just finding the root of it.”

I looked over at him. “I think cats are cute. They’re not needy, they’re smart. They’re awesome.”

“You’re wrong.”

This made me burst out laughing, and I let it roll through me, pushing out the residual tension over Dad, and what I’d learned from Sam. But just thinking about it again brought some of the tightness back to my chest.

Maybe he sensed it, because Sam squeezed my hand. And then I knew he sensed it, because he said, “I’m sorry your dad sucks.”

This pulled a surprised laugh out of me. “I’m sorry your dad sucks, too.”

“I’m never seeing another Ian Butler movie ever again.” He paused. “Except Encryption, because that movie is the fucking bomb.”

“Hey!”

“Sorry, Tate, it’s just science.”





three

MOM MUST HAVE SAID something to Nana—telling her to go easy on me, let me have some fun, something—because without any complaint or even a whiff of displeasure from my grandmother, Luther and Sam became our regular companions in London. Each morning I bolted from bed and raced through the process of getting ready, eager to sit across from him, to wander the city together, to see him. We talked for hours in the garden every night. He said he’s lived in a small town for all but the first two years of his life, but he has more stories and random theories than anyone I’ve ever met.

At breakfast each morning, they were across the table from us: Sam with his flirty smile and plate piled high, and Luther with his highly sugared cup of coffee. On the street, they were usually a few steps behind us, wrestling with the giant map Luther insisted on using and arguing over alternative Tube stations when we found Paddington closed.

On a particularly gloomy day, we avoided the rain by visiting the National History Museum. Luther made up funny—and very loud—fictional stories about each of the dinosaurs in the Blue Zone, and even managed to coax Nana into dropping her plans for lunch at an old hotel she found in a guidebook. Instead, we ate burgers at a dark pub and laughed hysterically as Sam told us about things going disastrously wrong with the milking equipment on his first morning shift alone at the farm.

Not only did Nana not seem to mind our new traveling sidekicks, she genuinely seemed to enjoy Luther’s company. After lunch, they walked on ahead, and Sam came up alongside me while we strolled, bellies full, to the Baker Street station.

“What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?” he asked.

I took a few quiet seconds to think while Sam and I wove in and out of pedestrian traffic. Together, apart, together. His arm brushed against mine, and in a heated breath I registered that it didn’t feel accidental.

“Nana’s house is on the water,” I told him. “It’s raised on stilts, overlooking the Russian River and—”

“Wow—stilts?”

“Yeah, I mean, the river floods a lot, so most houses near the water are on stilts.” When his eyes went wider, I said, “Don’t get a mental image of some sort of elaborate castle. It’s really just a three-bedroom, plain house on stilts. Anyway, we’re not supposed to jump from the deck because it’s so high up. The river is pretty deep there, but our toes always brush bottom, and the depth changes year to year. Someday we’ll jump and it’ll just be riverbed.”

Sam’s hand brushed mine when we sidestepped a man on the sidewalk, and this time it was accidental: he apologized under his breath. I wanted to reach out and make the contact permanent.

“Charlie and I would jump off the deck when we were home alone. I’m not even sure why.”

“Of course you know why.”

“To be scared?”

“To feel a rush, yeah.” He grinned over at me. “What would you think about when you jumped?”

“Just . . .” I shook my head, trying to remember the feeling. “Just that there was nothing else in that moment, you know? No school, no boys, no drama, no chores. Just jumping into the cold water and feeling crazy and happy afterward.”

“You’re pretty cute if that’s the craziest thing.”

I wasn’t sure whether I was more thrilled that he called me cute, or embarrassed to be exposed for being so tame. I held in a shaky breath and laughed. “You know me.” And in a weird way, I feel like he did. “What about you?”

Sam hummed. “Tipping cows. Drinking beer in the middle of nowhere. Weird races and games in cornfields. Trying to build an airplane.” He shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s easy to be crazy on a farm.”

“Is it?”

“Yeah, I mean,” he said, ducking around a man walking aimlessly with his eyes on his BlackBerry, “everyone in Eden’s always saying when you live in the middle of nowhere it’s impossible to get into trouble, and I think it gives parents a sense of ease, like even if they can’t see us, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Drinking some beer in a field? But knowing they think that, I don’t know . . . it feels sort of like a challenge sometimes.”

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