I squeezed one eye closed, squinting the other at him. My thoughts were windmilling around my head. “I’m so confused. I haven’t spoken to my dad in ten years. I didn’t know I had a trust.”
If this surprised Marco, he hid it. “From my very basic understanding, all the money your father owed in child support was set aside.” He spread his hands, and the gesture opened my entire world. “The trust covers anything you might need after you leave home.”
Slowly, my head started to spin. I was a carousel, gathering speed. “Who’s in charge of the trust?”
“You are, as of your eighteenth birthday.”
“But,” I spluttered, forcing the right questions to form in my mouth, “who was in charge of it before me?”
Blackness threatened at the edges of my vision, and Marco became blurrily framed. “Both of them?”
“Ian and Emmeline.” He leaned in, his light eyes steadying me. “When the news broke, Emmeline called Ian, and Ian called me.”
“I didn’t even know they spoke anymore.”
“They hadn’t been,” he said. “Not outside of the occasional legal correspondence, anyway.”
But they were now.
“There is nothing sinister happening,” Marco assured me, maybe sensing my panic. “Your parents don’t get along, but the priority here is you. I am not here for Ian, or for Emmeline. I am here for Tate Jones, Tate Butler—whichever Tate you want to be. I work for you.”
This entire situation was a chaotic mix of titillating and alarming. Beneath the guilt and devastation I felt, there was a curiosity lurking, an odd sense of power.
Marco seemed to see this reaction pass over me. He reached into a leather laptop case near his feet, and produced a bag of trail mix, handing it to me. “Want to tell me everything?”
Managing my first smile in what felt like days, I admitted, “Not really.”
“I’m not here to judge,” he said. “I know the story of your mom and dad, but I don’t know anything about you after you left LA. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about who I’m working for?”
I glanced anxiously at the door. No sign of Nana yet.
When I looked back to Marco, he didn’t look away. He blinked slowly, giving me that same gentle smile. There was something in his posture—he exuded a sense of tenacity and loyalty that made me want to go sit next to him and cry for an hour. I wanted to trust him, but I trusted Sam and look where that landed me. What if my internal compass was broken?
“I confided everything to the wrong person,” I told him. “That’s how we ended up here.”
“I’m sure that makes it hard to say it all over again. Can you tell me about him?” When I remained quiet, he added, “It will help me know how to best manage this for you.”
“I thought he felt the same way I did,” I said quietly. “We . . . yeah.”
My face crumpled, and his expression broke from the gentle calm into genuine empathy. “He broke your heart.”
So I spilled it all. Every last detail. I told him about the garden, about meeting Sam every night. I told him about all the things I confided and about our day of freedom in the paddleboat. I admitted that I slept with him that day and nearly every day after. I told him that Sam seemed like the first person who knew me as me—the Tate I felt like I’d never been allowed to be.
“What do you want to do?” he asked once I finished.
“Whatever Mom has planned.” I shrugged, feeling sick. It was both the truth, and a lie. I wanted to do whatever made this easier for her and Nana, but there was something else glittering there, winking at me from a distance. “I’m not sure what she and my dad will want me to do once we’re home.”
“I’m not here for them. I’m asking you, Tate,” he said. Marco leaned his chin in a cupped palm. “What do you want to do now?”
Shaking my head, I asked him, “What do you mean?”
“Do you want to live in the sun?” he asked quietly. “Or do you want to go back in the shadows?”
IT’S NOT UNTIL I’M facing the entrance to Twitter headquarters that I realize I’ve personally only tweeted from my account twice in ten years. Even so, I have over four million followers and I’m supposed to do a live chat in ten minutes. I can already see an enormous crowd of bodies just inside the doors and have no idea how I’m going to do this without screwing up.
“So, if I start the tweet with someone’s Twitter name,” I say, looking up from my phone, “everyone who follows me can see it?”
Marco is leaning back in through the passenger window, telling the driver where to meet us, and when. He straightens, glances at my phone, and waves me away. “Don’t worry about any of that. I have all the answers typed out for you. Just use the hashtag, and you’ll be fine.”
I take the folder he hands me, scan the questions and answers inside, and gaze up at him with melting gratitude. “How would I function without you?”
“You’d be curled in the corner of your messy house, eating Lucky Charms out of the box by the handful.” He checks the time. “Five questions, and then we’re out. Don’t get chatty. We need to get on the road by noon.”