I nod in his hands. “Keep talking.”
He kisses my cheek and releases me. “Sadly, I need to hit the road if I’m going to catch my flight. Your call time is at five tomorrow morning. First up it’s you and Nick, almost exclusively. Which is good,” he reminds me. “You don’t have baggage with Nick. It’ll give you time to settle in. You have to nail this.”
I may not have baggage with Nick, but nailing it still means I have to push everything else aside. Nothing else can matter but fully becoming Ellen, and what would Ellen do in a situation like this? She’d give herself an hour to be mad, to be sad, to be whatever she needed to be, and then she’d buckle down. No excuses.
I hold Marco tightly, wondering if I made a mistake and should have asked him to stay. But no—I don’t need babysitting.
I know who can help me get my head on straight. Releasing Marco, I say, “Have a safe trip back.” I pause. “Do you know where I can find a landline?”
With a smile, he points back to the Community House. “The office, upstairs.”
He doesn’t even have to ask who I’m calling.
Mom answers on the fourth ring, harried, dropping the phone before she can even get a hello in. I imagine her in the kitchen, still using the landline with the enormous cord she winds around her hand as she chats, pacing the wide, bright room.
She lets out a happy little gasp. “Tatey!” A chair screeches on the tile. She’s going to sit, but I know it won’t last long.
“Tell me everything.”
Before I can even get started, I hear her push back to stand. While she paces, puts away dishes, seems to start cooking something—but then heads outside into the garden, pulling the long cord behind her—I tell her about the farm, about my cabin, about the makeup trailer with Charlie, Nick, and Trey.
And then I tell her everything about running into Sam.
About how Ruby Farm initially felt like an endless expanse of green, but now feels like a tiny green bubble.
It’s weird that Mom never met Sam, has no idea what he looks like. Weird, because the sensation of seeing him again still pulses through me like an extra heartbeat, and it makes it hard to explain why it threw me to see him with a beard—because somehow I always knew he’d grow one. Weird, because it’s hard to explain how his eyes look exactly the same but entirely different, too. There’s wisdom there now that I have no part of. I’ve had meaningless flings that lasted longer than my entire relationship with Sam, so why am I jealous of fourteen years? Why am I jealous at all?
“Because he was your first,” Mom says, like I’m a sweet idiot. “Not just the first guy you had sex with—”
“—but the first person you ever shared who you are with. He’s the first person you ever consciously confided in about your dad. He’s the first person who ever knew that you wanted to be an actress. And he sold that information.”
I chew my thumbnail, mumbling “I guess so” around it, though when she puts it that way . . . duh.
The quiet stretches between us, and I can tell she’s waiting for me to say more, but I have nothing left to say about it.
“You haven’t mentioned your dad once,” Mom says. “Is that intentional?”
This actually makes me laugh. Twenty whole minutes I haven’t stressed about shooting a movie with Dad. Maybe the one blessing of Sam’s reemergence is that Dad is suddenly the least of my worries.
“He has a girlfriend on set,” I tell her. “I haven’t interacted with him yet at all.”
Mom exhales slowly. “I’m sorry, honey.”
“Why are you sorry?”
“Because I know what you wanted this to be.”
I feel my chest grow too-tight. “What did I want it to be?”
It’s her turn to laugh, but it isn’t mocking. “Tate.”
I lift a hand to my lips, chew my thumbnail again, letting her gentle pressure unknot my thoughts.
“I don’t want to put words in your mouth,” she says gently, “but I think you were hoping this would be a turning point in your relationship with Ian.”
For a flash, I let the daydream seep back in: sitting with Dad between takes, heads bent close, going through scenes, notes, ideas. The fantasy feels well-worn, a book read over and over. So I know Mom is right: I did want this to be a turning point for us. I wanted to be his peer for once. I wanted him to finally feel knowable, reachable.
“I need to get over it,” I say.
“You just need to protect your heart.”
I’m aware how the fallout from my relationship with Sam in London changed not only my outlook, but hers, too. She used to be such an optimist; now she’s the voice of caution.
“What I actually need is to crush it tomorrow,” I tell her.
“You will.” I hear the fridge opening and shutting again. “Every time you look at your dad, just remember, the best thing he ever did was make you.”
The Community House is empty by the time I step out of the office. My footsteps echo down the long wooden staircase. With the anticipatory stress of the table read behind me, I’m able to actually take in the space this time. The main room is cavernous, with beautiful vaulted ceilings and wooden floors polished to a shine. Windows line the entire space; at the far end is a stage that looks like it’s held some great bands and shows, but right now is a willing storage spot for audio equipment.