Sam caught my gaze, and his normally smiling eyes were oddly flat. He winced, opening his mouth to speak before seeming to think better of it, and broke his gaze away, looking out the window into the garden. I watched him lift a hand, chew his thumbnail, and we all fell silent for a good ten seconds, unsure what to say.
My lungs, heart, and stomach seemed to fall away. Nana and I exchanged anxious looks.
Worry etched another crease into her forehead. “Are you okay, hon?”
Blinking back over, he inhaled sharply, as if he’d forgotten where he was. “Yeah. I’m good. Hungry.”
Without another word, he stood, walking away toward the buffet.
Nana watched him go, but I focused on my mostly empty plate. His mood very well might have had something to do with Luther, but he’d been worried about Luther this entire trip and hadn’t ever been cold to me because of it.
The only thing that changed from yesterday was that he told me he loved me.
“Well, he doesn’t seem like himself.” She picked up her fork. “But then again, Luther’s been looking pretty gray lately. Wonder if that has Sam in a mood.”
Sam returned with his usual loaded plate and proceeded to shovel food in his mouth.
“Sam,” I said quietly, as soon as Nana stood to get some fruit.
He looked up at me, chewing, unspeaking, with his brows raised.
“You sure you’re okay?”
We held eye contact for ten bewildering seconds before he swallowed and looked down to spear another forkful of eggs. “Not really.”
He didn’t look back at me, so we finished breakfast together in silence broken only by the scrape of silverware on porcelain.
I couldn’t talk to him in the elevator ride back up to our rooms because Nana was there. And when I knocked at his door while Nana was using the restroom, no one answered.
He and Luther were nowhere to be seen when we were ready to head out for the day.
Sam wasn’t in the garden after dinner.
He didn’t come to breakfast the next day.
“I wonder if they left for the Lake District early,” Nana mused, staring distractedly out the window. It must have been weird for her, too, to have them so abruptly disappear.
“Sam told me that he thinks Luther is sick,” I told her.
She nodded. “I think so too.”
And with that, I didn’t feel like eating. Everything tasted the same: bland and gluey.
“Honey,” she said gently, “I know you were fond of him. I’m sorry.”
I was fond of chocolate. I was fond of my red Doc Martens. I was fond of sunny days out on the water. I was not fond of Sam.
But still, I nodded, trying to work a piece of grapefruit down my throat.
On the phone with Mom after breakfast, I knew I sounded flat. She was used to me talking more, and when confronted with my monosyllable answers, she grew concerned—asking about Nana, about Sam, about me. I gave her the barest of facts: that Sam and Luther had left, and no, I didn’t think we’d keep in touch. That Nana and I were heading to St. Paul’s Cathedral that day.
A wave of nausea rocked me when I remembered what he’d said about coming to California, traveling with me to LA and supporting me when I reunited with my dad. It wasn’t that it couldn’t happen without Sam, but he was the first person in my life to encourage me to try. He gave me a bravery and sense of strength I hadn’t felt before. I had no way of finding him. He didn’t even have my number, either.
I hung up and slid the phone into my purse.
Numb, I followed Nana down the hall, into the elevator. I let the flatness take over. It was like folding a piece of paper, tucking it under a stack of books, letting the weight of some other story take over whatever interesting thing had been written there.
“Ready to explore?” Nana said too brightly. I could tell she was trying to put on a happy face, to show me how one soldiers on from a disappointment.
I grinned back at her, feeling the shape spread across my mouth, knowing it was more of a grimace.
“Okay, hon,” she said with a gentle laugh. “Let’s go.”
She marched ahead, shoulders squared, chin up, pushing through the doors to the sidewalk. And because I was looking at the ground, I didn’t notice when she pulled up abruptly. I walked into her back, causing her to stumble forward.
An explosion of cameras caught the awkward collision on film. I’d see the photos everywhere for weeks to come. A chorus of voices shouted my name—they knew my name. Nana turned, grabbing my hand and jerking me back into the hotel. It took me a long time—far longer than it took her—to figure out what was going on.
LOST NO LONGER:
Tate Butler Steps Out in London
The famed daughter of Ian Butler and Emmeline Houriet surfaces, and tells her story of a life of hiding, secrecy, and fear.
Screen legend Ian Butler’s only daughter vanished completely from the public eye when she was only eight, spurring wild conspiracy theories that would plague him and enthrall fans for years. But this week in London, Tate Butler has resurfaced and spilled the details about her life in seclusion.
Once a doting husband and father who was often photographed on the red carpet with his wide-eyed and smiling daughter in his arms, Ian became tangled in scandal following an affair with co-star Lena Still. His wife and daughter fled Los Angeles, leaving the public without a clue to their whereabouts. Indeed, for nearly a decade the world has wondered what happened to the girl with her father’s million-dollar smile, and—moreover—what happened to her mother, rising starlet Emmeline Houriet.