I cup my hand over my eyes and look down the rock at him. “We were.”
“Can you imagine?” he says, grinning. Hopeful.
“Don’t go there,” I say with deep warning. Buying into the hype before the movie is even shot is a dangerous path.
Nick waves me off. “I know, I know.”
I prop my weight up on an elbow. “What made you want to do this role?”
Nick adjusts his weight on his forearms. “Is that a serious question?”
“I know it’s a great role, duh,” I say. “I guess I’m asking specifically what drew you to it.”
“Richard is a black dude who saves a white woman in the 1960s, goes on to run for city council with her, wins over an entire community on the strength of his character alone. How could I turn that down?”
“You think Richard saves Ellen?”
“Without question, I do.”
It’s funny. I always thought the script was less about either of them being saved and more about each of them finding their person. I thought it was about the bravery of two people fighting bigotry and racism and becoming leaders in their community.
But I think I see what he means. “You mean that she would have been alone for the rest of her life if he hadn’t come along,” I say.
Nick nods. “Exactly. Ellen was so ready to be old when she was so young. Richard wouldn’t let her.”
For some reason, this hits me right in the chest, a direct shot. Whether Nick realizes it or not, he’s just found my Achilles Heel: the sense that I stopped being young the second I left London.
Oblivious to my internal brain freeze, Nick rolls on. “So. Let’s recap. We’re a week in. Tate was right about Devon the walking alarm clock and our unpleasant, occasionally non-smoking production secretary. Who wants to dish on Tate and the writer?”
Charlie and I say “No” in unison.
With a little growling laugh, Nick seems to let it rest. I tilt my face to the sun and feel its heat soak into my skin. “Can we pause time right here?”
Nick turns his face to the sky, too. “I thought your dad might join us.”
I know he’s playfully fishing for dirt, and I am too relaxed and happy to have my guard up too high. I point without looking over my shoulder. “He’s with the girlfriend in the cabin.”
“Her name’s Marissa,” Nick says, grinning.
“I remember,” I lie. Nick laughs.
“Can I be honest?” he says.
I suspect we’re still going to be on the subject of Dad, and I am immediately wary. “You can talk about anything you want, but I can’t guarantee that I will respond while I’m on this nice warm rock.”
Nick laughs. “Fair enough. I thought this shoot might be all about Tate and Ian bonding in front of everyone.”
“You’re not the only one,” I tell him. I’ll do whatever I can to keep people from prodding into the Sam backstory; if a few Butler breadcrumbs accomplish that, so be it.
Charlie rolls onto her side to face us, and throws me a questioning Can I speak freely? look. I nod.
“I can absolutely guarantee that’s why he brought Marissa,” she says.
The suggestion stings a little, mostly because she’s probably right.
Nick tries to work this out. “You mean, he doesn’t want to bond?”
I hum, unsure that this is the right interpretation. “More like he doesn’t know how. Marissa is a good buffer.”
Nick rolls to his back, staring up at the sky. “So you didn’t know him at all growing up?”
“I lived with both parents until I was eight,” I tell him. “Then I didn’t see him again until I was eighteen.”
“That’s when the story broke,” Nick says, nodding.
I glance over at Charlie, who meets my eyes at the same time. Nick is getting dangerously close to where Sam comes onto the scene.
“Yeah, it was time,” I tell him, going for breezy. “I was ready to start working, and so a ghost publicist dropped the scoop to the Guardian.”
Even Dad would back up this story, because he still thinks it’s true: that I wanted to reconnect with my father and was ready to begin an acting career, so Mom and Nana hired someone to break the story. In fact, Dad was initially furious with Mom for not letting his team in on the plan.
“For real, though? That’s a pretty sophisticated publicity feat for an eighteen-year-old . . .” Nick says, skeptical now. I wonder what information he has, and how he’s been turning it over in his mind since we got here.
“For real.” Charlie moves to her stomach, adjusting the towel under her. “You realize Tate is telling you things she could sell to People for like a hundred grand. You better be trustworthy.”
“What,” Nick says, grinning, “you want some quid pro quo? I could talk about Rhianna. Or my night with Selena Gomez.”
“No, it’s okay,” I tell him, laughing as Charlie says, “Hell yes, give me all the dirt.”
He confides a little, telling us bits of things I knew, and bits I definitely did not. I’m not sure if he’s this open with everyone, or it’s the obvious comfort I have with Charlie and Trey that makes Nick feel like he’s among family, but he gives us a genuine glimpse of who he is: an actor like me, who wants connection, yet has a hard time knowing how to do that in the bright light of the world’s stage. It’s clear neither of us would be very good at a fling on set, no matter how much he wants his reputation to make me think he could pull it off.