“That’s pretty much it,” I said. “I mean, El Molino is a super small school and I’m friendly with almost everyone, but I guess I was never one of those social butterflies who spent time with big groups of people. We had the popular clique, and they’re fine, but I’m not really part of it.” I pulled away a little so I could look at him. “I bet you were.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He shrugged and scratched his eyebrow. “But my school was really small, too. Like four hundred kids total. I had my group of guys I’d hang with. Most of them go to State with me, so I see them all the time. Eric. Ben. Jackson. A few went farther away—probably won’t come back. It’ll be interesting to see who’s still there with me in twenty years.”
“So for sure you’re going to go home and run the farm?” I asked.
My stomach did the familiar clenching-drop combination it did whenever I imagined staying in Guerneville and taking over Jude’s Café. Every time I tried to imagine that future, everything turned blank.
“That’s the plan.” He took a deep breath. “I love it there. I know it as well as Luther does now. It’s so peaceful at night; the sky gets so dark you can see everything. But they’re getting older, and if Luther really is sick . . . I don’t know.” He paused, wiping a hand over his mouth. “I might be taking it on earlier than I thought. Which is fine, because let’s say someday I want to write a book? I can easily do it there. I keep telling them they can live there and let me take care of them for once. Roberta probably won’t hear of it until I’m married, though.”
A tiny shiver worked its way down my arms. “Do you have someone back home?”
Sam laughed at this, and the sound was so low he seemed much more man than boy. “No, Tate. There’s no one right now.” He looked at me, both amused and incredulous. “Wouldn’t they be pissed to find me lying on the lawn with the beautiful daughter of the most famous actor alive?”
“It’s not like we’re doing anything,” I reminded him, but the words come out all wobbly, like I knew they weren’t entirely true.
In response, he gave the moment a heavy, lingering beat of silence before he grinned over at me. “We sure aren’t.”
I grew hot all over, and a nervous laugh escaped when neither of us spoke for five . . . ten . . . fifteen seconds.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked him.
I was positive he heard the way my voice shook when I asked, “What about me?”
“That I like you,” he said with gentle urgency. “That it’s weird to already like you so much. That I want to spend time with you—alone—during the day, and get to know you better, but don’t know how we could make that happen.”
“What would you want to do?” I asked.
Sam sat up, reaching to brush the damp chill of the lawn off his back. “I dunno. Just walk around. Talk more like this, but in the daylight so I can see you properly.” He turned and looked down at me, a smile slowly lifting the corners of his mouth. “Lie down together on a different lawn somewhere.”
“You want to spend the day alone?”
I didn’t miss the edge of hurt in Nana’s voice.
“Not because I don’t want to be with you,” I insisted. “I’m leaving soon, to school in Sonoma, and I like the idea that I can walk around a big city alone and navigate it by myself. I just . . . want to try for a few hours.”
I held my breath while she lifted her arms, clasping pearls at the back of her neck. “I suppose I could visit Libby tomorrow without you.”
Libby, from deep in Nana’s past, owned a tiny London hotel. Even the way my grandmother said Libby with a particularly lilting emphasis on the first syllable made me see that she thought her old high school friend must be impressively cultured.
“Exactly,” I said, exhaling at the appearance of this convenient excuse: an old friend. “You wouldn’t want me there, either. I’m sure I’d keep you from gossiping your faces off.”
Nana laughed, swatting at me with her sock before sitting to put it on. “You know I don’t gossip.”
“Sure, and I don’t like pie.”
She laughed again, and then looked up at me from where she sat at the edge of the bed. Her expression straightened from her brow to her mouth, and, at rest, her lips pulled down in a natural pose of displeasure. “Where will you go?”
I tried to look undecided, but the plan flashed in my head like a marquee. Gambling that she wouldn’t follow to check up on me—I didn’t think even Nana was that paranoid or controlling—I said, “Not sure. Maybe Hyde Park?”
“But hon, we’ve planned that for next Tuesday.”
“Maybe I could go out on a paddleboat?” I tried to make it sound more like it had only just occurred to me, and not that Sam and I had already discussed the idea. “It looks fun, but I don’t think you’d want to do that with me.”
Nana wouldn’t step foot on a paddleboat, but wouldn’t want to stop me from doing it, either. She nodded slowly, bending to pull on her other sock. I could see I’d won.
“I guess you’d be fine.” She looked up. This was such an enormous leap of faith for her. She would never let me even go to San Francisco or Berkeley alone.