Sam isn’t why I came here today anyway, I remind myself.
He crosses the room, hands me the mug, and gestures that I sit wherever I want in the living room area. When I choose the sofa, he follows suit, folding himself into the corner at the opposite end.
“You okay? After yesterday?” As always, Sam cuts to the chase.
“I’m getting there. It helps,” I say, adding, “to know.”
“It drove me crazy, wondering what you thought all those years.”
“I thought about it a lot for the first few,” I tell him. “And then time passed and it stopped factoring into every decision I made. I stopped worrying about what Nana would think, what Dad would think, what Mom would think.” I pause, then add quietly, “What Sam would think. The last seven years or so have been really good, and all mine.”
He’s quiet in response to this, but gives me a muted, “I’m so sorry, Tate,” after a few deep breaths.
Nodding, I blink down to the rug. “I don’t actually want to talk about us anymore.” A glance at him gives me a response I wasn’t expecting to see: disappointment. “But maybe you could tell me more about Roberta.”
I wonder if this surprises him a little. His eyebrow twitches, and he reaches up to scratch it. “Oh. Yeah, I’d be happy to.” He pauses, waiting for me to ask more, I guess, to be more specific.
“I just want to hear stories about her,” I admit. “And about Richard. I mean—Luther.”
Sam grins at me. “Roberta was something else. They both were.”
I stretch my legs out, warming, and stop just short of pressing my feet against his thick thigh. He looks down and smiles a little, stretching his arms out along the back of the sofa. “We getting comfy?”
He laughs, and his mossy eyes shine with understanding at the double meaning. “I see that.”
Taking a sip of my coffee, I say, “We don’t get to see her as a mom. I mean, I get that it simplifies the story somewhat, but I imagine it would only make her more amazing. Juggling all that? How come you took him out?”
“Because my father turned out to be such a dick.” Sam shrugs, crossing his ankle over his knee. “I only know how tender she was with me, but I can’t imagine she was like that with Michael and he still turned out the way he did. Even though I know she was—a good mom, I mean.”
“Does he know you’ve written this?”
“Probably not. Haven’t spoken to him in years.”
I make a sympathetically mad face, and this makes him laugh. “I’m fine. Better off, trust me. Though I am in regular touch with my mom. Ironically, she lives in London now.”
I let out a sharp laugh. “Do you visit her?”
“A couple times a year.”
I want to ask whether it brings up old memories, but I’m sure I’m the only one of the two of us who is so fixated on our brief affair. It was the single most defining moment in my life; no doubt it’s just one of many in his. I need to move on.
“What kinds of books did Roberta read?” I ask instead.
“Mostly history,” he says. “Nonfiction. Luther loved crime novels, but Roberta called them his ‘trash books.’ She’d read these giant, boring nonfiction books about Napoleon or Catherine the Great.”
I exhale a dreamy sigh. “She sounds wonderful.”
“She was. She wasn’t perfect, but she was about as close as you can get. It’s why you’re the best person to play her.”
This is such an inflated compliment, it makes me laugh. “I’m nothing like Ellen. Not really.”
“Are you kidding?” he asks me. “The girl I knew was every bit as brave and brassy.”
I wonder if Sam has any concept of how much this compliment warms me from the inside out. I know it isn’t true; maybe it used to be—I like to think I was brave and brassy when I was younger, but I’m undeniably soft now. My life is made easy for me by a handful of people, and every time I’m required to be truly brave—letting new people into my life, for example—I flee.
I think about everything I could learn from Roberta now. Just to have a day in her company would feel like such a gift. It was such a waste, in a way, for me to have met Luther when I was eighteen and had no idea how to get to know him, how to ask him the questions that would unlock all of his stories. I feel like I missed an opportunity to talk to someone whose life had been hard and wonderful in equal measure, and who had a wisdom I can’t even fathom. But at least I laid eyes on him, can still remember his laugh, his teasing eyes, the way he could ask probing questions without ever sounding nosy. I never had the chance to meet her.
“Why didn’t she like to travel?” I ask him, recalling parts of our conversations. “It seems so . . . out of character.”
He nods, swallowing a sip of coffee. “Because she was so fearless otherwise?”
Sam sets his mug down and reaches up to scratch his jaw. It’s a small movement, such a casual gesture, but it sends a bolt of heat through me anyway. I’d forgotten how easy he is in his body.
“She hated planes,” he tells me. “I think it was probably the one thing that scared her—the idea of flying across an ocean. I remember when Luther and I left, how she tried to look calm and put together, but she was a wreck.”