“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.”
“What kinds of stories do you write?”
“Maybe that’s part of it,” he said, shrugging. “Why I don’t tell them much about my writing. Most of my stories are about people in our town, or made-up people who might live in our town. I like to think about how they became the way they are.”
I pulled up my own blade of grass. “I remember we had this whole discussion in history class a couple years ago, how history is subjective. Like, who is telling the story? Is it the person who won the war or lost the war? Is it the person who made the law or was jailed because of it? I kept thinking about that so hard afterward, like—and I totally get that I’m just one person, and not, like, important—but I wonder what’s the actual story between my parents?”
Sam nodded, riveted.
“Mom told me once that Dad fought for me, but in the end it was better for us to be up in Guerneville, away from the media.” I wrapped the long blade of grass around my fingertip. “But how do I know whether the stories they’ve told me are true, or whether it’s what they wanted me to hear so that I’m not sad about it? Like, I know LA wasn’t a good environment for her, and I know the circumstances about why they split up, but I don’t actually ever talk to my dad anymore. I wonder how much Dad fought her leaving. Did he miss us? Why doesn’t he call me?”