“Do you think she would have had fun in London?” It’s amazing what context can do, like I can see my past through someone else’s eyes. What I’ve been holding on to was actually about something so much bigger than just me.
The thought blows through me, unsettling: If Sam had asked me, would I have agreed to expose myself to help Luther? The truth is, I had loved Sam enough to say yes. I would have. And the fact that he didn’t even talk to me about it dampens the relieved, floaty feeling I’ve had since yesterday.
I’ve missed half his answer and have to mentally shake myself to catch the rest of it.
“. . . couple days. She liked to keep busy. She wasn’t really one for vacations.” He stops, and his gaze flickers all over my face. “What?” he asks warily.
I’m not sure what he sees in my expression. “What what?”
“Your cheeks are red.” He pauses again, narrowing his eyes, reading me perfectly. “Are you embarrassed about something, or mad at me?”
His comfort with honesty, with gentle confrontation, makes my irritation boil over. “Track change, but I was wondering why you didn’t include me in the decision to go to the Guardian.”
Now I know this question catches him by surprise. He takes in a sharp breath, leans back, and tilts his face up to the ceiling as he thinks about it. “You think you would have agreed?” he asks, finally.
“I think there’s a good chance. I was pretty infatuated with you.”
I see the way this word hits him sharply, that I said infatuated not love. Sam looks back at me. “I didn’t include you because I was panicking.” He leans forward, resting his elbows on his thighs and staring at the area rug beneath his feet. “It wasn’t exactly a well-laid plan. I wasn’t even sure it was going to work.”
“Tell me how it happened.”
He rubs a hand over his beard, squeezing his eyes closed. “Like I said, I was panicking after talking to Roberta. She told him we had to come home that instant. He fought her a bit, but finally agreed. As soon as Luther went downstairs to settle up our room, I called the paper,” he says, and his voice is so flat, it’s like he’s reading instructions. “I said I had information on Ian Butler’s daughter. They said they’d have a reporter call me back, and I thought it would take a while, but it was like two minutes even though it was three in the morning. I told them they’d have to buy the story. They got some preliminary information from me so they knew I was credible—I think I told them where you lived and the name you went by, so they could look it up. When they wired money to my account, I went down to the lobby and used a pay phone to call them back. I told them everything you’d told me.” He looks at me and winces. “You and Jude walked past me to breakfast while I was talking to them. I nearly threw up. Tucked the phone into my shoulder and turned away. I was worried the reporter hung up, but he hadn’t.” Sam shrugs. “We left for the airport basically as soon as the call was over, I chickened out on saying goodbye, and Luther got his treatment.”
“And then it was just—what?” I ask. “Business as usual? Back to your regular life?”
“I mean, there were a lot of doctor appointments and hospitalizations. It wasn’t exactly regular life, but yeah. I took on more at the farm. Luther was weak for a while, but then he was better.” He licks his lips and takes a deep breath. “I never told Roberta or Luther what I did.”
I stare at him, shocked by this. I don’t know why I assumed they would have been in on it. “How did they think you got the money?”
“I said Michael sent it from New York.”
“And they believed you?”
He shrugs. “I think at that point they didn’t want to look too closely. They just wanted Luther to get better. But that means when I got home,” Sam says, turning to me, “I was the only one who knew what I did.” He quickly holds up his hands. “I’m not saying it was as hard on me as it was on you, okay, not even close. But I was relieved for Luther, and then at the same time I was being eaten alive by guilt.” He looks over my shoulder, remembering. “You had that interview with Barbara Walters, and then pretty soon after that you were cast in Evil Darlings. When I got that news, I went out to the bar and got so drunk that my friend had to drive me home in his tractor.”
“What?” I ask, confused. Was he upset that I went into the industry? “Why?”
“Because I’d been crazy about you. Completely fucking obsessed. And for the first time it occurred to me how stupid I’d been,” he says. “How reckless with you. My life went on the way it always had, for the most part. I assumed you’d get a flash of attention and then your life would go back to the way it was before, too—college, living in Northern California, whatever—it never occurred to me that it might not. That your life might have been totally ruined by what I did. How dumb was I? You turned the exposure into something good, but you could have just as easily gone the other way. How would I have felt if I’d heard about you using drugs, or—worse? What if what I did had caused real damage in your life?” He blinks into focus and looks back at me. “I really could have fucked things up.”
I laugh dryly, sipping my coffee. “You did fuck things up.”
“But look at you. You’re doing okay,” he says, and then very quietly adds, “right?”