Mom paused again, and in that silence I heard how quickly the unspoken question formed. Finally: “Did you?”
What was I hearing in her voice? Fear or excitement? Sometimes they sound the same—thin and tight, words clipped.
Would she be angry if I’d told him? Or would she understand my desire to lay claim to this glimmering history of ours? Sometimes I got the weird sense that I was disappointing her by not rebelling and shouting from a megaphone who I was, who she was, where we came from. In London, I wanted there to be a reason for my small-town clothes, bland ponytail, outdated style. I told myself it could be fun, playing the role of the country mouse in a big city. But in the privacy of my own thoughts and as selfish as it sounded, I wanted the world to know that it was just an act, that I wasn’t meant to be a fish out of water in this land of cosmopolitan women.
Daughter of world’s most famous actor has been living a simple life in a tiny town and never learned fashion. She’s so down to earth!
But I told Mom a lie instead of the truth. “No way, Mom. I would never.”
She exhaled, humming quietly. “Okay, muffin. Let’s talk tomorrow?”
I blew her a kiss before hanging up, feeling the sour weight of the lie settling in my gut.
Not unlike pulling a curtain closed, the guilt melted away as soon as I stepped outside into the dark, glimmering night. Sam didn’t look up as I settled beside him on the chilly grass, but I could feel the way he shifted, sliding just a little bit closer.
“’Bout time,” he said. It was dark but I could hear the smile in his voice. “I was getting sleepy.”
The urge to reach out and hold his hand spread through me like an electric wave. “Sorry. My mom called to see how things are going.”
He turned to me in the dark. “Is she jealous, with you and Jude all the way out here in London?”
“I wondered the same thing.” I sat up and crossed my legs, looking down at him. Inside, I felt keyed up, sort of jittery.
“You okay?” he asked.
“She asked me whether I told you about Dad.”
Sam smiled up at me. “You mentioned me to your mom?”
“And?” He waggled his eyebrows. “What’d you say?”
“That I met a guy named Sam.”
Playful disbelief took over his expression. “That’s it?”
I hoped he couldn’t see my flushed neck and cheeks in the darkness. “What am I supposed to say?”
“That I’m handsome, and both talented with words and know my way around a farm.”
This made me laugh. “I’m not sure you’re talented with words or farms; I haven’t seen proof.”
“I notice you didn’t argue with me about being handsome.”
“Are you trying to impress my mother?”
He pushed up onto his elbows, giving me flirty eyes. “What did you tell her?”
“I told her you’re nice and—”
“No,” he said, waving me off. “I mean when she asked whether you told me about your dad.”
“Oh.” I bit my lip. “I lied. I said I hadn’t.”
This seemed to surprise him. “Would she be mad?”
“I don’t know.” I tucked my hair behind my ear and noticed that his gaze was following the path of my fingers. “I don’t think she would?” I looked up at him and then winced. “But I was thinking about it the other day, and I realize this sounds totally spoiled, okay? But part of me wants to get to enjoy the perks of being Ian Butler’s daughter a little.”
“Why on earth do you think that makes you sound spoiled? Everyone in your position would want to be able to see how the other half lives.”
“I think because that life ruined my mom, and here I am, wanting a reason to go back there.”
“Did it ruin her?” he challenged me. “Or did she just have a shitty marriage?” He ran his fingers through the grass. “Roberta had a crappy first husband. Got her pregnant so young, cheated on her. She was different after that, I bet, but then she moved to the farm and fell in love with Luther and they’ve sort of become these bedrock citizens. Everyone relies on them for advice and help and just wants to soak up their wisdom. She’d’ve never met Luther if she hadn’t had a bad one the first time around, and I know she’d never tell me not to get married just because it didn’t work for her once. I don’t imagine your mom would want you to avoid something just because it didn’t work for her.”
I could see the storyteller in him, the biographer. He didn’t even know my mom, and still he drilled down to something so quintessentially true about her: she would never tell me to say away from LA if that’s what I really wanted.
The idea of chasing that dream—of really stepping out into the sun and owning that legacy—set something afire inside me, and when Sam caught my eye and held my gaze, I could tell he saw it too.
ON OUR SIXTH DAY in London we watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. The crowd was heavy and our bodies were pressed close as we all jockeyed for the best vantage point through the gilded iron fence. Sam’s proximity made me drunk. I would never have anticipated how longing could be so dizzying, how it could feel like he belonged to me without any proof or history at all.