With shaking hands I cross the room and dig for my phone in my bag. Email won’t load, but the solitary bar of signal might be enough for a phone call.
Marco’s assistant Terri picks up on the second ring.
“Tate! I thought we lost you to the wilderness!” she says. The connection is terrible and fades in and out, but I’ll take it.
“Me too,” I tell her, working to keep my voice calm. “Terri, can you do something really quick? Can you search my email for me? Anything from a Sam Brandis.”
I haven’t said his name aloud in years.
“Sure! Just give me a second.” The faint tapping of keys, and I’m barely breathing. I’m not even sure what I want her to find. “There are four.” I close my eyes. Is this relief? Anger? “The subject line on all of them is Milkweed.”
“Okay,” I say quietly, voice carefully even.
“I’m so sorry, Tate. Business correspondence comes directly to Marco, or me, but I’m guessing because this person isn’t in your contacts—and because you get about a million emails about Milkweed a day—they were filtered to junk. God, I hope they weren’t important.”
“No. They weren’t.” I press my fingers to my temple and the ache that’s beginning to build there. No doubt it will be a full-blown migraine by the end of the day. “And don’t apologize. That’s what’s supposed to happen. Terri . . . could you forward them to me? I’ll read them when I get service.”
“Absolutely.” More tapping of keys and then, “Okay, done. Anything else?”
“I think that’s it. Thanks.”
I end the call just as a knock comes at the other end of the cabin.
Devon. Of course.
Another deep breath and I stand, tucking my phone into my back pocket. This is not how I wanted to start off. It’s well after six thirty; the table read should have started over a half hour ago.
“I’m here,” I say, perfected smile in place as I open the door. “I’m sorry. This won’t happen again.”
I follow Devon down a long set of wooden steps set into the hillside. Magnolia cabin sits higher than the others, with a deck built onto the front that offers a gorgeous view of the valley and the entrance to the farm.
At the bottom of the stairs a driver waits in a bright green golf cart, the knobby all-terrain tires caked with mud. Devon motions for me to take the front seat, and he climbs onto the row in the back. The driver sets off up the trail toward the Community House.
“We’re good on time,” he says, glancing at his watch and jotting something on his ever-present clipboard. He hands me a bound copy of the script. “You’ll have a copy waiting for you, but in case you want a minute to look it over. Obviously you’ve done this before, but everyone should be there—probably eating—and the read-through should take about two hours. Depending on how chatty everyone gets.”
“Sounds good. Thanks for getting me.”
He grins at me, and as frazzled as I am, I mentally reshuffle Charlie’s predictions for the shoot. If he smiles at her like that, she won’t stand a chance.
“You say that now,” he says, dimple popping in each cheek. “Let’s see if you still feel that way when I’m knocking on your door at four a.m.”
More golf carts line the front of the Community House, and the main room inside is packed. Thankfully Devon was right: most people are eating or talking amongst themselves, so my late arrival doesn’t garner much attention. But of course Dad notices. And Marco. I keep walking. I can’t avoid Dad’s disappointed glare forever, but I can at least avoid it for another five minutes. Marco knows me better than anyone. He knows that, for me, on time is as good as five minutes late and is already on his way over before I have the chance to stop him.
Reaching for my arm, he gently pulls me to the side. “What happened?” He looks closer, clearly sensing something monumental, even knowing I can’t tell him about it now. His eyes narrow. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” Neither one of us is buying it. I give his hand a reassuring squeeze. “I’ll explain later.”
With a glance around us, Marco reluctantly lets me go. I take the seat waiting for me next to Nick, mirroring his excited smile. Three long tables have been pulled together, all facing each other to form a U in the center of the room. The primary cast is at the center table, the secondary at another, and the principal crew is at the third. More people are here than I’ve ever seen at a table read: chairs line the walls and every inch of space is filled with someone anxious to hear the first read-through with Ian and Tate Butler.
Gwen stands and the room quiets around us. She takes a moment to thank the crew and staff that have worked so hard to get us to this point. She takes a deep breath and talks about the screenplay, how she’s never read anything quite like it. I clap along with everyone else when she’s finished, but the sound is like static in my ears; voices like they’re coming from underwater.
I can feel the gentle weight of Marco’s eyes on me, worried and constantly wanting to check in. And even though I don’t know where Sam is in the room, I can feel him, too, just like I could all those years ago.
I was so angry in the months following London. Thanks to reporters and the interview I did with Dad, I was the shiny new toy and the offers came rolling in. The public was fascinated. We told a story: that Dad and Mom had agreed to take me away from LA. That Dad had always known where I was and been constantly involved. And, most important, Marco made sure to whisper to just the right people that the Guardian exposé was planned all along—no one actually betrayed us.