“Emma is a passive one,” Nana continued. “Sweet—maybe too sweet. But the husband? My goodness. I suppose it’s hard to see someone’s true colors when you’re in love like that, but I’ve never met a more selfish man. Everything was about appearance.”
Luther hummed low in this throat, a quiet mmm-hmmm of understanding. “He have any contact with Tate?”
“No.” She paused, maybe finally drinking her coffee. “He gave little indication that he wanted any.”
This stabbed fully into me; a sharp splinter into my thoughts. I had memories of sweetness with my father: in his arms on the sidewalk, lying head-to-head in bed, reading books, splashing in the waves on the beach. I wanted to believe that he gave me up for my own protection, that he did it out of love. He may not have fought for me, he may have forgotten to pick me up at the airport . . . but what Nana said meshed too well with the unwelcome sense I got from Sam that night he told me what he knew: that Mom might have given me a better impression of Dad than he deserved.
Finally I did stand, realizing that there was nothing in this conversation I wanted to hear. I didn’t want my memories to be washed in hindsight with Mom painted as a weakling and Dad as a deserting father who didn’t want me at all.
Sam jogged after me. “Tate.”
I marched past the bocce court and into the thin patch of trees just behind the restaurant.
“Tate.” He caught up with me, falling into step to my right. “Hey.”
Stopping at a low bench, I sat, leaning my elbows on my knees.
I let out a short, dry laugh. “The thing is, she won’t talk about Dad with me. But she’s talking about it with Luther?”
“Maybe because she doesn’t think anything will come of talking to him about it?” he asked carefully.
“You heard her. She’s so set against him. I get her being mad over what he did to Mom, but I’m his kid. You know?” I looked over at him. “And I never even got a choice. If you could have a relationship with your dad, wouldn’t you try?”
Sam shook his head. “No. But the situation is different, and even if it weren’t, you and I wouldn’t have to react exactly the same way.” He took my hand, turning it over to draw on my palm. “My dad sent me away. Your mom took you away. Those might seem like small differences, but they aren’t. They’re enormous.”
“I know.” I turned to look up at him and the sight of him, close enough to kiss, made desire mix strangely with sadness. He bent, sliding his mouth over mine. We weren’t that far from the restaurant, but the feel of him was such an immediate comfort that I didn’t care who saw us. I leaned in for more, to put my hands in his hair, to hold him to me.
Finally, he pulled away and his eyes had that same heaviness they had yesterday when he was braced over me, asking if I was sure.
“I want to take you back to Vermont with me,” he said quietly.
He leaned in for another kiss. “I’ll make you a deal,” he said. “When I come out to California to visit you soon, if you want to go to LA to meet up with your dad, I’ll take you.”
I hadn’t imagined there was any way that Sam and I could be together again, but that night, after the loop of Nana’s words had formed a dull, persistent rhythm in my thoughts, I met him in the garden at midnight, kissing him frantically until our mouths were raw. Whether or not he knew I needed distraction as much as I needed him, he didn’t make me talk about it again. Instead, he slid his hand into my pants and stared at my face while he touched me, almost delirious with want—and let out a relieved moan when I reached for him, too.
I didn’t even know what was really happening between us, how it seemed to balloon so quickly or how it could be sustained. It felt both inevitable and foolish to give my heart away like this, to let myself fall so hard for someone I might never see again. I immediately pushed the thought out of my head as soon as it entered.
When I spoke to Mom every morning, I dropped little bits of information about how things had progressed with Sam. But no matter how much she seemed to delight in my romantic vacation, I still wouldn’t dare tell her that I lost my virginity to him or that every time I saw him, my head started singing a tiny, beautiful, terrifying four-letter word.
The following night in the garden, his hands were on my face, but I wanted them on my skin. His hands were on my chest, but I wanted him over me. His body was on top of mine in the shadows, but I wanted him moving into me. I wanted to possess him and be possessed by him in a way that made me feel nearly wild.
When I reached for his track pants, he went still, his voice unsure in my ear: “We should stop.”
“I don’t want to stop.”
“I don’t want to either, but I also don’t want to get arrested.”
“Just . . . let’s be fast.”
In the end, we came together, frantically, behind a row of trees. And afterward, while I was staring up at our stars, he turned to look at me, saying, “It’s so crazy to think that things that I thought only lived in my imagination can be real.” He reached out, tracing my mouth with his fingertip. “But then I touch you, and it’s like every fantasy I ever had coming true.”
I closed my eyes, feeling, for the first time all day, a sense of reality closing down on us. “You can’t say things like that.”