A waitress fills our water glasses, lists the specials of the day, and then makes sure to mention which of Dad’s films is her favorite.
He grins brightly at her and leans in as if to confide. “That’s my favorite, too.”
She’s beaming. Dad orders wine, we both order food, and once she’s gone, he rolls his eyes. “I judge everyone who tells me Cowboy Rising is their favorite. If you like disjointed trash, I can’t help you.”
Wow. I bite my tongue and squash my inclination to remind him that most of his early career is based on “disjointed trash.”
“Does Marissa live nearby?” I ask instead.
He blinks up to me over the rim of his water glass. “What?”
“Marissa,” I repeat. “Does she live near you?”
He takes a sip of water. “Oh. Yeah, she has an apartment near school, but she usually stays at my place.” He winks and I don’t know why, but it’s a little gross. “More space.”
“So things are serious between you two?”
The surprise registers on his face; I’ve never asked about girlfriends like this before. The waitress comes with our salads and the wine, giving him time to either formulate an answer or change the subject when she leaves.
But he doesn’t dodge the conversation like I expected. “I’m not sure I’d say we’re serious,” he says. “She’s finishing her degree and . . . we’re good friends.”
Something snags in my thoughts, a bite of curiosity I’ve never given space before. “Why do you think you never remarried? You and Mom broke up so long ago.”
If anything, he seems to have expected this follow-up. He answers without hesitation. “I don’t think there’s one specific reason. Relationships are hard in this line of work. The schedule can be hectic, and it’s hard to know what someone’s true intentions are.” He points his fork at me. “Not that I need to explain any of that to you, of course.”
What on earth does that mean? I weigh my next words carefully.
“Most of my relationships have been for PR anyway,” I admit. “Always seemed easier that way.”
“Yes and no.” He takes a bite, chews, and holds my gaze as if he wants me to know he’s not done making this point. “Both have their drawbacks, but it’s probably easier when someone at least understands how the business works.”
“Speaking of . . . I wanted to talk to you about something.”
Dad picks up the salt and pepper, and looks at me expectantly.
“I’m seeing someone.”
“Really? Do I know him?”
My palms grow sweaty, and the hair on the back of my neck stands up. Is he being coy? “It’s Sam, Dad.”
Despite his flawlessly administered Botox, his brows disappear into his hair. “The screenwriter?”
Maybe he didn’t hear us last night after all. Maybe it didn’t strike him as odd that we came out of the greenhouse together. Maybe I’ve just confided in Dad unnecessarily.
I nod, bending to take a bite of my salad to avoid his eyes. The more I chew it, the more the crouton in my mouth feels like sand. When I swallow, it turns to glue.
Dad sits back in his seat and stretches an arm over the seat beside him. He really does look surprised. And if I’m not mistaken, completely tickled. “So I did walk in on something last night,” he says with a grin. “Very interesting.” He leans forward conspiratorially. “You’ve never talked to me about boys before.”
This makes me laugh. “I’m thirty-two. He’s thirty-five. He’s hardly a boy.”
He grins, eyes crinkling warmly. “You’re my kid. It’ll always be a boy.”
“And I guess . . . I mean, we’ve never really talked about this kind of stuff before. Like, life stuff.”
He hums quietly. “Life stuff.” He leans forward, forearms propped on the table, the weight of his attention solely on me. “So tell me, to use your words, is it serious?”
“It might be, yeah. He’s really . . .” I feel my cheeks warm and bite back a smile. “He’s amazing, and smart, and I think I fell in love with him the moment I read Milkweed.”
In a hot flush, I think I want to tell him everything—but I don’t. Maybe one day, when things are really solid between us.
It’s crazy, but for the first time I have hope.
When the waitress stops by to check on us, Dad reaches for the bill before she’s even placed it on the table. He holds up a hand when I protest. “You are not paying for your old man’s lunch.”
He tosses down his card, and I catch Althea’s name on it. Smart, I think. People would be stupid enough to take a picture of Ian Butler’s credit card and post it online.
We’re stopped three times on our way to the door, by people who’ve clearly been patiently waiting for us to pass back through the room.
I knew you were filming something, but I had no idea you were so close!
I have loved you since Cowboy Rising.
How are you even better looking in person?
Dad is eating it up.
I take one last look at the menu, wondering if I should pick up something for my picnic with Sam tonight. I imagine the two of us stretched out on a blanket, looking up at the stars, curled into each other’s arms to stay warm.