“I’m doing okay.” I chew my lip, debating how much to admit, and why the desire to tell him I’m not always thriving has risen to the surface. Is it because I want him to still feel a little bad? Or is it something else in me, something kinder that wants to tell him because I want him to know me better? “I’m still not great with relationships. I haven’t been since.”
Sam’s brow pulls low, and he blinks down to his hands. “I read about lots of them.”
“Most of them have been coordinated,” I say. “Publicity only.”
“Chris?” he asks, and there’s a vibration in his voice, a layer beneath casual that feels darker, a little gravelly.
“We were real for a while, but he was a mess.” Self-conscious now, I lift my thumb to my lips, chew my nail. “For a long time, we weren’t together anymore but we kept up the facade.”
“I saw you with Nick,” he says. “That night.”
The night we got drunk and kissed. Idiots. “I know.”
“Are you two . . . ?”
I shake my head, embarrassed all over again. “I was messy that night. Over all this.” I wave between us, but then widen it to include everything this set has contained—the pressure of a high-profile, character-driven role, the presence of a world-renowned director, and of course my dad.
He makes a little sound, a tiny “Ah” in acknowledgment, but it makes me crazy, wanting to dig a little deeper to know what he’s thinking. I mean, how much can this really bother him? He’s with someone else, after all. He goes upstairs to call her almost every night after dinner. And he chose our current circumstances. It’s not like he gets to play jealous ex here.
“Anyway,” I say, wishing I hadn’t brought up any of this now. “I hate sometimes that I haven’t fallen in love since London.” It feels like too much as soon as I’ve said it, and I quickly add, “But I know I will someday.”
I feel exposed in a way that he isn’t—he’s settled, with children, healthy. But I don’t want to be the broken bird anymore. I’m tired of suffering from an emotional limp through every relationship I have, even this new friendship—is that what this is?—I’m trying to forge with Sam. Honesty, clarity, and closure. That’s what I need here.
He smiles, and I can imagine the comma scar there beneath the beard. Just the thought of it pulls a band of nostalgia tight in my chest. “Well, I guess that’s why I had to write Milkweed,” he says.
I narrow my eyes, trying to puzzle out his meaning. “I don’t follow.”
“To remind myself that they were worth it.” He laughs. “They were pretty ornery at the end.”
I’m still lost. “Worth what?”
Sam looks at me as if I’m being exceptionally slow, and a half smile curves his mouth. “Worth losing you.”
“WHY AM I SO terrible with men?”
The sun is dipping below the tree line, and Charlie’s dark hair is a wild halo in the breeze. “I don’t think you’re bad with men—”
She stops when she catches my Come ON face. My You have got to be kidding face. Charlie knows my track record better than anyone: I am terrible with men.
“I’m serious,” she says, eyes back across the field again, to where the set crew is putting the finishing touches on the barn for tonight’s shoot. “And even if you were, who could blame you? It’s not like you’ve had the best examples to follow. Your parents were a mess when they were together. Your mom’s never dated, and your dad needs to just . . . stop. Nana never remarried. My parents were a hot mess, too, so I’m not winning any awards in the romance department either. If you suck at this, it’s because you’ve never actually seen what a normal relationship is supposed to look like.”
I consider this as I look out over the landscape. I’m nervous about tonight’s shoot because it’s going to be intense, even if things go exactly the way they should. The farm might be over two hundred acres, but with my dad around it feels entirely too small. With Sam there it feels even smaller. I thought settling into some kind of quasi-friendship would make things easier between us, but instead it’s only made things more confusing.
Anger was easier, and it was definitely safer.
The thought that I’ve played a woman in a healthy relationship more times than I’ve actually been one is depressing.
“I’m thirty-two, Charlie. Thirty-two and eternally single, with crippling daddy and abandonment issues. I thought Dad and I would finally connect, and that’s all gone to shit. I thought I’d finally moved on from Sam, but now all of that is a lie, too. At least you were engaged.”
“For six months,” she reminds me.
“Yeah, but you got that far. The farthest I got was Chris saying ‘I love you,’ and me replying with ‘You’re the best.’ ”
She laughs. “Maybe that’s what drove him to drink.”
“Charlie Zhao, you are the fucking devil.”
“Didn’t you get to the I-love-you’s with Pete?”
Ah, Evan. Sweet Evan only bothered with me for five months. “Nope again. Well,” I correct, “he said it. And I think I tried to improve on my ‘You’re the best’ and came up with ‘That makes me so happy to hear.’ ”