Sam turns and starts walking away. But he isn’t walking toward the cabins; he’s walking in the direction of the distant parking lot, where the long tractor trailers that brought up all the equipment are parked.
“Where are you going?” I ask, tripping several paces behind him. My feet are crunching through the gravel just as loud as his are; he has to know I’m behind him.
I stumble over a stick on the path that I didn’t see. It’s black out; nothing but stars overhead. “And then what?”
We continue to march in stony silence, gravel crunching, crickets making a racket in the grass all around us. I could turn and go back to my cabin, have another glass of wine and try to process the fuck out of all of this: jealous Sam, guilty Sam, brilliant Sam. And the confused, relieved, hysterical anger bubbling up inside me. But I don’t feel done with this conversation tonight.
So here I am, following him into the darkness.
What kind of doormat am I? We’re weeks into this shoot, in the middle of nowhere, and he tells me he’s sorry and he’s jealous and that’s it? Fourteen years and I’m ready to pick back up where we left off?
I hate myself, but I can’t stop. There’s a voice inside me saying, This is how you scratch off the black crayon. This is how you find out what’s underneath. You stay with it, you become dogged, you don’t back down.
Sam slows in front of a big red truck—a rental, I assume—and presses his hands to the hood, bowing his head. His fingers are so long, palms wide and muscular. I know those hands, know those fingers and the way they curl and grab. I know those arms, and that shoulder, and that neck.
“Did you decide where you’re going?” I ask.
He turns. “No.”
“Going to go with your default, then, and just take off?”
He growls, taking a step forward, coming right up close to me. “What do you want me to say, Tate? What should I say? That I’m trying to figure my shit out? That I’m trying to give you some distance? That I’m losing my mind being near you? All of it, okay? Fucking all of that is true. Being near you like this is completely wrecking me, and—what am I supposed to say?”
I take a step back, finally breaking, too. My voice echoes off the trucks all around us. “What do you want me to say? That I’m happy that you’re single? That I’m relieved that you didn’t break my heart for fun? How much do you want me to debase myself here? You hurt me! You never tried to find me, not in all those years. But here I am, following you into the goddamn parking lot, trying to find my way back to you!”
The heat radiating off his chest is intoxicating. I’ve had two glasses of wine, but it suddenly feels like twenty. He’s so huge in front of me, this wall of man, of Sam. I lift a hand, rest it just above his solar plexus. His breath jerks, his hand comes around my wrist.
“Not like this.”
“Like what?” I spread my free hand out. “In the middle of nowhere?”
“Not when you’re pissed off.”
“I’m the one who’s pissed?” I say, laughing sharply.
He drops my hand and tilts his face up to the sky.
“I’m not pissed, Sam. I’m conflicted.”
It’s another match to pavement—he thinks he gets the only say in when or how this happens? So I step closer, slide my hand up and around his neck. I raise up on my toes and hover there, just an inch away from his lips. He smells like water, and wine, and the strawberries of dessert, and it’s like a knife to the ribs to remember that day in the park, when he tasted like berries, and we ate them under a tree and then he laid me down so carefully in the bed, sliding a towel under me.
He’s shaking, shaking under my palm at the back of his neck and my other hand pressed to his chest, feeling his heart under there. It’s like a treasure in a fortress, this heart. I wonder what it’s felt, how many times it’s beat painfully enough to make him wonder whether he’s dying.
He did that to me.
Am I really the only terrible thing he’s ever done?
I shove him once and he stumbles back, landing against the side of the truck. My hands come to the front of his shirt, pulling the cotton into my fists, and I want to tear it off, dig my hands into the skin underneath and pull his heart free.
His hands come slowly to my hips, steadying me. “What do you want, Tate?” He lets his eyes fall closed. “You want me to leave? You want me to stay? I don’t know the right answer here.”
I don’t want to have to say it. He’s smart enough to figure it out. I’m exhausted enough that the truth pushes past any barriers of mental self-preservation: I want him to want me. I want it to eat him up inside, like a cancer that can’t be cured. I stand there, looking at him, watching his eyes open again and his expression go from indecision, to hesitation, to that melting of relief, and he bends in jerky, halting movements, as if he wants to give me time to change my mind.
His lips meet mine, so soft, just resting there, but it feels like I’ve been ripped open the way everything pours from me. He lets out a hoarse sound of relief, and I remember this, how it felt to stand on my tiptoes, to reach for his neck, to pull him down to me, wanting more and deeper, wanting that slide of his tongue and the way his groan felt like it came from a fairy tale, the giant begging for something precious.