The quiet lets me imagine the space in a different context—when the farm is rented out for a family reunion with familiar bodies dancing jubilantly up and down the floor, or when it is packed full of strangers from all over the area eating after long hours out helping with the fall apple harvest.
Voices rise up from outside, just down the hill in a small grassy clearing. I wander down, finding that a tent has been set up, with strings of lights, some tables, a makeshift bar. It looks like the scene of a wedding reception, and I register that they’ve turned the set of an upcoming town dance scene into a bar for the cast and crew for the time being. The flaps are folded up over the roof and air drifts through, warm but dry. The Indian summer winds blow in from the east; the sun lingers low in the sky, turning the horizon a picturesque purple-pink.
I don’t see Gwen or Sam or Dad and his mystery girlfriend, but Devon is there, sitting at a table with Liz and Deb, each with a bottle of beer in their hand.
“Hey, lady,” Liz says, lifting her chin to me. “You doing okay?”
The question sinks in sharply. It’s fair, too—her wanting to know if there’s something going on with me they should know about.
“I’m good!” I give them a bright smile. The wink may be overboard. “Totally overwhelmed by how amazing this place is.”
“Right?” Deb points to the bar. “They’ve set up some drinks over there. Go grab yourself something before dinner.”
They look genuinely relaxed and happy—and easily return to their conversation when I walk past. Liz tilts her head back, cackling at something Devon has just said—which tells me that whatever fears anyone has about my ability to channel Ellen, they aren’t saturating every one of their moments the way my fears are saturating every one of mine.
Over Liz’s shoulder, I see that Nick is here, too, at a table in the far corner, reading a book. He glances up when he catches sight of me, setting his book facedown on the table.
“There she is.” He reaches for his beer, tilting it to his smiling lips. “Was wondering where you went off to after the read.”
“After the terrible read,” I amend.
He laughs. “I wasn’t going to say it.”
“I went to call my mom.” Off his look, I add, “Don’t worry. I’ll have my shit together tomorrow.”
Nick nods and lifts his chin in acknowledgment to someone over my shoulder. “I know you will,” he says, turning his attention back to me. “I was there when you saw him, you know.”
A surprised laugh bursts out of me. In all of my post-Sam-conversation processing about this, I’d forgotten that Nick—and Dad—were standing on the path when I had my run-in. I must have looked like a lunatic.
“You forgot I was there,” he guesses.
I start to answer but startle a little when someone places two beers on the table between us and then disappears.
“So who is he?”
“He’s the screenwriter,” I say evenly.
Nick grins, Cheshire-like. “I know that. I mean, who is he to you?”
I take a sip of my drink and study Nick’s mouth, the way he slides his teeth over his lip. The flirty, possessive gleam to his eye reminds me, You’re mine on this shoot. Whether that glint is about our characters, or about real life, I’m not sure. But whatever it is, chemistry crackles between us, and I cling to it, grateful that it wasn’t a fluke back in LA, that whatever sparked during casting is still here out in the wide-open farm.
“I knew him when I was younger,” I admit, trying to be honest without being too specific. “I haven’t seen him in a long time, and it threw me.”
His eyebrows rise in a skeptical lift as if the words It threw me are a dramatic understatement. “You two date?”
“Not date, exactly. We had a fling on a vacation once.”
“Your reaction was bigger than seeing an old fling.”
Shrugging, I tell him, “You know how everything feels more intense when you’re young.”
Nick nods at this, smiling. He takes a long, slow sip and then puts his bottle down, propping his elbows on the table so he can lean in, confidentially. “I know you were stressed today. But it wasn’t as bad as you think it was. The vibe in the room was weird, with every person in there who could fit just dying to see you and your dad together. It didn’t matter what anyone did in there, performance-wise. It was going to be a circus regardless.”
“Thanks for saying that,” I say quietly.
Nick runs his finger over the back of my hand. It’s not a sexual gesture, it’s a gentle attention grabber, a gesture of redirection. “I think this tension is good,” he says. “You and Sam. Use it. He’s your Daniel, the boy you fell in love with, who hurt you.” He looks up over my shoulder again.
This time, I turn to follow his attention and notice that it isn’t someone on the crew bringing us beer again; this time it’s the appearance of Sam, standing with Gwen and the studio executive Jonathan over by the table serving as a bar. My stomach flips, tightening. I turn back around, working to appear unfazed.
“I’m your Richard,” Nick reminds me. “You don’t want to fall in love again; you think you don’t need it. Last time someone came to your farm he coaxed you away at sixteen, took you to Minneapolis, then turned out to be a liar and a cheat.” Nick studies me, seeing too much, I think. “So I get it: when I come around you aren’t going to touch another man again. Do I about have that right?”