“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.”
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.