He knew. Of course he knew. The question is, did I?
Unable to get a word out, I turn, and start moving stiffly in the opposite direction.
I remember being drunk one night with Charlie, so drunk I could barely walk. At least, that’s what she told me happened. At the time I’d felt like I made my way down the hallway in a seductive saunter. But the next morning while I nursed a lurching, debilitating hangover, Charlie told me I’d ricocheted my way down to her bedroom, stopping twice to catch my balance against the wall, before falling into her room and passing out just inside the door.
This memory rises in me like bile. I wonder how I’m walking now; it feels like walking, but it could be crawling, tripping, ricocheting down the path. The stones leading to my cabin come into view and some internal fail-safe tells me to turn. Like a joystick has been jerked to the left, I pivot, tripping over a cobblestone and catching myself on the first step.
I hear a voice, voices.
“What’s going on? What did you say to her?” It’s Dad, accusing Nick of something. Nick’s voice pleading innocence, his own confusion.
And then I hear the quiet words, “Let me get this.”
It’s the voice of Sam Brandis, jogging down the path, showing up out of the blue fourteen years too late.
I THINK I CLOSE the door but there’s no slam, only footsteps carefully making their way up the three small stairs behind me.
“Tate?” He’s at the threshold now but doesn’t step inside, and in this weird fugue I’ve entered, I find his hesitance hysterical.
Did he watch me on Evil Darlings? In the mirror, seeing myself in costume for the first time, I didn’t look like nineteen-year-old Tate. I looked like timeless, feral Violet: ruthless, manipulative, like I could murder someone with a flash of my teeth against their neck. In every attack scene, I imagined I was attacking Sam.
But that was so long ago. Fourteen years? My life scrolls past me: lovers, sets, the swimming faces of cast and crew. At some point it stopped feeling like London actually happened. It was just a terrible dream I had once.
“Tate, can I come in?”
“No.” My voice sounds far away, even to my own ears.
He doesn’t leave, he just moves back from the door. Heat seems to fill the cabin, like he’s standing in there, enormous, warm, alive right in front of me.
“Tate,” I hear him say quietly. “We’re going to have to deal with this.”
I sit heavily on the couch, and the springs squeak. Leaning back, I count the number of exposed beams overhead. Seven. This cabin is old, so old and rustic and loved. I idly wonder how many knock-down-drag-out fights it’s seen before.
“What is going on?” I ask the ceiling. Suddenly my head is pounding. “Seriously, what is going on?”
Sam seems to take this as permission to join the conversation and very slowly steps into the cabin, keeping a safe distance once the door has closed behind him.
Pressing my hand to my mouth, I struggle to not laugh. Laughing isn’t the right reaction here. Dad is somewhere out there, waiting for me to come do my job and wondering what the hell just happened. Nick, too. Sam Brandis is here, of all places, for some reason? I’m grappling for logic, but it’s completely evading me.
Sam steps closer, kneeling a few feet away, staring at me. I’m unprepared for how it feels to meet his mossy-green eyes; a sharp pain spears me somewhere vital, making it hard to breathe. I look back up at the ceiling.
Where do we even start in a situation like this?
“What are you doing here? And how?” I frown. “Wait. Are you here with my dad?”
He laughs out this single, incredulous breath and then blinks to the side, like he isn’t sure he heard me right. “Tate, Milkweed is mine. I wrote the film.”
I squeeze my eyes closed. But—“The writer is S. B. Hill.”
“Sam Brandis,” he says quietly. “Hill was Luther’s last name. I legally took it before he died.”
Luther. I knew him. Can still remember his bursting laugh, his teasing, glimmering brown eyes. A tiny, conscientious part of me feels a pang at the idea of him dying. But a louder, brittle voice carries above the fray: They used you, Tate. They probably made it to the Lake District with a shitload of money in their pockets.
“Should I have known this?” I ask him. “That you would be here? I feel like this shouldn’t have been a surprise to me today.”
“It’s understandable,” he says quietly. “You’re so busy. You have so much—”
“Don’t do that,” I cut in. “Don’t patronize me.”
“I’m not,” he says quickly. Immediately. His eyes are so wide, like he can’t quite believe this is happening either. “Tate. I’m so ama—”
“Who even are you?” I ask. “I thought you were a farmer.”
“I am.” He opens his mouth and then bites his lip, shaking his head as if in wonder. “But you knew I wrote, too. I write, still.”
“Okay, let’s be honest, Sam. If we’re going to do this, at least be honest: apparently, I didn’t know anything about you.”
He looks like he wants to argue this but blinks away, seeming to search for words. “Well, I write. I’ve always written, but Milkweed is different. It’s—”