“Nick and Tate, you guys are killing it. That was exactly what I want to see. We’re losing light, so let’s break it down for the tight shots and we’ll start again in—” She checks her watch. “Fifteen.”
Devon follows suit with the extras, and the crew scatters. Nick stands and motions over his shoulder. “I’m gonna grab something to eat. Join me?”
The offer is tempting—I’ve barely had anything today and should probably eat—but I can’t shake this odd feeling, the notion that I’ve heard Ellen’s story before.
I pass on food and head toward Charlie’s trailer. Aside from being our backdrop, it seems to be business as usual throughout the majority of the farm. Fields of organic vegetable gardens and small orchards, a sprawling meadow tucked low in the valley feeds grazing sheep and cows—
I stop, my mind replaying the scene we shot today.
Who cares what they think! These fools run all over the county on Friday nights tipping cows, for God’s sake . . .
“Tipping cows,” Sam had told me, talking about his life in Eden. “Drinking beer in the middle of nowhere. Weird races and games in cornfields. Trying to build an airplane. It’s easy to be crazy on a farm.”
It’s right there, the memory of everything he told me. About growing up on the farm. About Roberta.
And then it slams into me, an echo from fourteen years ago.
“She didn’t care one iota,” Luther said. “Even when they set the barn on fire.”
For just a moment the fields disappear. The chirps of birds and the tick tick tick of irrigation sprinklers in the distance are replaced by the muffled sound of traffic and the chime of Big Ben. How did I miss it before?
Rosebushes line a stone wall and there’s nothing but starry sky overhead and damp grass at my back.
I DON’T EVEN BOTHER to knock. Sam, sitting at the small table in his cabin, jumps when the door flies open and slams behind me.
“What’s going on?”
He pushes himself to stand, confused. “What’s going on with what?”
I throw a copy of the script down on the table. “The barn burning down? This. Milkweed. It’s not just some random love story, is it? It’s Luther and Roberta.”
He frowns, waiting for me to continue, like he’s not at all surprised. He’s still waiting for me to get to the part where I explain why I’m mad.
He thought I knew.
“Oh my God.” I sit down in one of the chairs, mouth open. “I’m Roberta.”
He drops slowly onto his seat. “It’s still just a love story, Tate.”
“But the irony here is that I’m Roberta, in love with Luther, the man who helped you con me in London.”
“Con?” He leans forward, intense now. “Wait. No. That’s not true.”
Shattering, I look up at him. “What isn’t true? That I fell in love with a script about the couple that helped swindle me?”
I’m thirty-two now. Fourteen years have passed, but I don’t feel a day wiser than I did when Nana and I asked the hotel to ring the Brandis room and heard the words, They checked out yesterday.
With a sigh, Sam runs a hand through his hair and leans back against the counter. “You didn’t want to talk about it when we first got here. You didn’t want me to tell you what happened.”
“Tell me now.”
He looks to the side; jaw tight, like he doesn’t know where to start. “Do you remember when I told you I thought Luther was sick?”
Arms folded protectively across my chest, I give him only a curt nod.
“Well, he was,” Sam tells me. “Very sick.”
“It’s good to know that some of it wasn’t a lie.”
He takes a step forward but seems to think better of coming any closer. “None of it was a lie.”
“I know I hurt you, I realize that, and—”
I stand and burst forward to get right up in his face. “You know you hurt me? Is that how you think of it? Like a broken leg or a sad couple of weeks over a high school crush? I had never let anyone in the way I did with you. You took my virginity, Sam.”
His eyes soften and he must see how close I am to tears. “The last night we were together,” he begins, wiping at his brow.
I feel my lip curl. “The night you said you were falling in love with me.”
A tiny pause and then, “Right.”
“The night before you called the Guardian.”
I’ve never had actual confirmation of this, but it was the only explanation that made sense. Still, his quiet “Yes” makes the floor tilt beneath me. “Roberta called at around three in the morning, after I left you at your door.” He inhales deeply. “Apparently Luther had a necklace made for her, nothing too extravagant, but more than they could normally afford. On the day it was delivered out of the blue—that last day we—”
My stomach dissolves just at the moment he closes his eyes, stopping just short of saying made love in the garden.
“She got an inkling what was going on,” he says, voice rough. “She called their doctor. Found out Luther’s prognosis was shit. Taking me to England and getting Roberta a gift like that was his way of saying goodbye. He didn’t want . . . they didn’t have much. Not enough for a lengthy treatment. They would have lost the farm, literally.”