Or am I just projecting my fears that I’m making a terrible decision? No matter how good things are with Sam, I can’t completely escape the nagging thought that going back to him makes me mildly spineless.
I blink back to the table when Nick pushes back from the bench, stacks his plates together, and sets the empty bowl on top.
“You heading out?” I ask.
He checks his phone out of habit, and laughs when he sees that—of course—there’s still no signal. But our brains are already detaching from this place. His unconscious gesture reminds me that tomorrow I’ll have reception and Spotify and texting again. I could weep.
Nick slips his phone back into a zippered pocket on the side of his shirt. “Listen, you have my numbers. Use them if you need someone to listen, or talk to, or hell, even if you just want to hang. I’m going to miss you, woman.”
Nick rounds the table, and I stand, wrapping him in a warm hug. A pang of sadness slices through me. After weeks here, the end really seems to have snuck up on me.
“I was right about one thing,” he says, looking down at me. “You were definitely fun. And if I don’t see those sidekicks of yours before I head out, tell Charlie and Trey it was good, all right?”
I lean into him again. “I will. Take care of yourself, okay? I can’t wait to work together again.” And I mean it.
He winks and bends to pick up his things. “See you, Tate.”
I watch him drop his dishes at the kitchen and say goodbye to the staff before I take my seat again. My food sits mostly untouched in front of me, but I don’t have much of an appetite anymore. I feel a bit drained all of a sudden. The most intense role of my life, the bubble of this set, the turnaround of the last few days with Sam . . .
I dump my garbage and set my dishes on the counter, thank the staff for everything, and head for the door.
Impeccably dressed and handsome as ever. His jeans are perfectly worn, his thick sweater the same whiskey color of his eyes. “I was looking for you.”
Anxiety sends a flash of heat down my neck. Did he agree to Christmas plans without really thinking it through, and now he’s come up with some excuse?
“Hey. Yeah, I was just headed to find Charlie,” I say, pushing open the swinging door. “Wanna sit outside for a few?”
“Actually, I came to see if you wanted to have lunch.”
I wince. “I just ate.”
He smiles, and I try to compare it to my catalog of Ian Butler Smiles to figure out if this is one the world has never seen before. “We could drive into town first, walk around? Spend a little time together before we head home.”
I glance around the dining hall. Nobody is watching us; this doesn’t seem to be for show.
“Sure,” I say, facing him again. “Let me go grab my purse?”
The drive to the restaurant is quiet. He suggested having the driver take us, but I talk him into letting me drive his sleek black Tesla. Dad drums his fingers on his knees, staring out the passenger window. We spend the first five minutes of the hour-long drive with a tinny country station covering the heavy silence.
But finally Dad breaks the ice. Thank God, because I had no idea how to. He talks about his house in Malibu (he’s getting new windows this year), the struggle of owning two homes (“It’s the maintenance that’ll kill you”), and how he’d read a script for a new superhero film, but they’d decided to go with someone “edgier” (my read: younger).
Driving gives me something to do, and I think I ooh and ahh in all the appropriate places, happy to let him talk because it means that I don’t have to, but also because even after all these years, I’m still needy enough to want every little piece of information I can get.
We park in the center of town, but quickly realize that strolling around in daylight is not going to be possible. We get stopped for an autograph before we’ve even gotten out of the car. Instead, Dad enters the address to the lunch spot in his GPS, and we navigate to a sweet white farmhouse with a red door. A wooden sign displays the name Trillium Café.
“Althea told me to take you here,” he says in a way that makes me preemptively sympathetic for Althea in the event that this restaurant turns out to be only mediocre.
“It looks cute.” In the distance, the sky has grown gloomy, with clouds creeping over the tips of the evergreens and resting heavily on the shingled roof.
But inside it smells like fresh bread and wood polish. A woman with a long braid swallows her reaction admirably and leads us to a booth toward the back of the main dining room. A couple turns in their seats as we pass, and I give a small wave and smile.
Our booth extends out from a window overlooking a wide yard of unruly grass and, farther back, a thick line of pine trees. It’s breathtaking.
Dad frowns down at the menu. “I want gnocci.” His frown turns into a smile when he looks up at me. “I’ll probably order a salad.”
My laugh is too loud. “Gnocci is my favorite, too.”
“Is it?” His smile flattens, and I sense that I’m trying too hard.
“Excited to get home?” I ask.
“Sure.” He scans the menu one more time and flips it closed again. “I had some work done in the backyard. I’m excited to see how it turned out.”