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.”
“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.”
“Did you ever get hurt?”
Sam shook his head. “Hangovers? Sprained my ankle once. But it’s mostly just a group of us being idiots. Most of the girls around are way smarter than we are and could kick our asses. It kept us from going too far.”
Nana turned around, waiting for us to catch up. “What are you talking about?”
I grinned over at Sam. “He’s talking about drinking beer in fields, tipping cows, and building an airplane.”
I expected Luther to say something about the cows or the beer, but he just nodded proudly. “That plane nearly flew, didn’t it?”
Sam looked down at me, grinning. He knew exactly what I was trying to do—get him busted—and when Nana and Luther turned back around, he dug a long finger into my ribs, tickling. “Looks like that backfired, missy.”
Mom called me that night, right as I was slipping out the door to meet Sam. I took my flip phone out of the room with me, not wanting to wake up an already-snoring Nana.
I’d been wondering whether Mom was lonely with us away in London, though I knew how much work it took to keep the café open, and even with a couple women from town helping her while we were gone, I was sure Mom didn’t have a lot of time to think about anything but work. Still, if it was nine o’clock at night in London, it was nearly six in the morning at home; Mom should have been running around like mad getting things ready for the breakfast rush. Unless . . .
“What’s wrong?” I asked immediately.
She laughed. “Can’t I miss my kid?”
“You can,” I said, “but not when you’re supposed to be opening the café. Nana will lose it.”
“It’s Tuesday,” she reminded me. “We’re closed. I’m still in my jammies.”
I pressed the down button on the elevator, relieved. “I have no sense of what day it is.”
“That’s the best thing about vacation.”
This triggered a small, guilty realization. “When was the last time you took a vacation?”
The only one I could think of was when she took me to Seattle for a weekend a little over a year ago. Other than that, it felt like Mom had become a happy, settled fixture of Guerneville. Just like Nana.
“Seattle,” she confirmed, and I felt a weird wiggle of guilt that we didn’t just close up the café and bring her along. “But don’t worry about me. You know I love summers here.”
I always had, too. The heat came rolling in across the river and down the dried creek beds bursting with fat blackberries. The air grew so sweet and the sun heated the beaches and sidewalks so hot, we couldn’t go barefoot for even a few seconds. If we needed a reprieve, we drove just a few miles west, where the ocean met the Russian River. On the coastal beach just past Jenner, we would be blasted with air so cold we needed jackets in the middle of July. The town filled with tourists and their money and there was always a line outside Nana’s café, all day long.
“Maybe once I start school, over a break we can go on a trip, me and you,” I said.
“That sounds nice, muffin.” She paused. “Are you walking? What time is it there?”
Guiltily, I admitted, “I’m sneaking out to hang out with Sam.”
“Do you think you two could make it work?” she asked. “Cross-country?”
“Mom.” A bright flash of genuine irritation jetted through me at how quickly she went from me hanging out with Sam to imagining a long-distance relationship. I loved her romantic streak, but sometimes it was more pushy than anything. “I’m eighteen, and we aren’t a thing.”
“I’m not setting you up to be a child bride, Tate. But to just . . . have fun. Be eighteen.”
“Isn’t it your job to discourage this kind of behavior?”
I could almost see her waving this concern away “You get plenty of that from Nana. I’m just dreaming, you know me, having the fun conversation and what-ifs.”
“I like him but—I don’t want to get my hopes up and start talking about what-ifs.”
“Why not?” she asked. “It’s not like you won’t be disappointed regardless if nothing happens. I don’t know why people think permanent denial is better than temporary disappointment.”
I knew she was right, allowing myself a few moments of fantasy as I made my way from the elevator to the back doors that led to the garden. My only boyfriend to date lived a half mile down the road from me. What would it be like to date someone in another state, clear across the country?
“I mean,” I said, giving in, “he’s so cute, Mom. But he’s more than that, he’s really easy to talk to. I feel like I could tell him anything.”