There’s a hint of glee to his voice that actually makes me nauseous. Everything he said, every bit of progress I thought we were making, it was all a lie.
“Dad, that’s all anyone is going to be able to talk about,” I say quietly. “With me and Sam, forever.”
He laughs, and it’s a genuine burst of sound; true amusement. “Honey, seriously? Forever? Please don’t tell me you’re that naive. What you should be thinking about is how to make it last as long as it can.” He holds a finger in the air, emphasizing his point. “Listen to me on this. The only sure thing in this business is that you’ll have to fight harder every goddamn year and you can only count on yourself. If you want to stay relevant, you have to make opportunities wherever you can, and this is a gold mine, Tate.” He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “A gold mine.”
In a way he’s right: Tonight, Ian Butler’s name will be on every gossip show and probably trending on Twitter.
I finally did something right in his eyes, and he only had to sell me out to get it.
WE SLOW AND ARC around the final curve leading to the farm, and my throat constricts. For the last quarter mile of the narrow two-lane highway leading to the humble gates of Ruby Farm there is a cluster of vans, cars, and photographers parked along the side of the road.
Dad sits up straighter in the driver seat, eyes focused. “Ready?”
I gape at him. This is déjà vu all over again. Only this time we’re not pulling up to Nana’s house on the river with reporters and paparazzi cluttering the tiny pothole-strewn street. And it’s not Marco beside me, it’s Dad.
Dad’s car is mobbed as he slows to make the left turn into the farm. Cameras are swiveled and aimed, mics extended. Putting on a pleasant smile, Dad turns up the radio as we pass, trying to block out the shouts, but it just makes everything feel more chaotic: the shouting of photographers mixes with the blasted, raspy voice of Lucinda Williams fittingly telling all these people she’s changed the locks on her front door.
Photographers press up against the car. Dad can only go about two miles an hour because the one thing that could make this scandal worse is hitting a photographer. I put my head down against the flash of cameras, breathing deeply between my knees and trying to anticipate what will face us inside the gates. Is it possible that Sam hasn’t even heard yet? Could I be so lucky to walk into a sweetly oblivious scene on the farm, with everyone still blissfully cut off from Wi-Fi?
Someone bangs on the window, startling me enough that I look up. The flash lingers in my eyes long after they’ve taken the photo, but I know it’s the money shot: Me, eyes wide, mouth agape, looking directly into the camera and appearing as frazzled by all this as they want me to be. In general, I’m used to this: the mania of photographers at premieres, catching me running errands, at any publicized event. But I’m not used to this. This is a true invasion of my life, not the coordinated response to a bit of intel dropped by Marco or his contacts. This bloodthirst is completely beyond my control; my heart jackhammers inside my ribcage.
Next to me Dad offers the occasional awkward wave, but his friendly smile has slipped into more of a grimace. Maybe he’s worried they’ll scratch his paint. Maybe it’s that here in the car he can’t charm the photographers into getting his good side—an angle that makes him look younger and taller. I’d like to think that he’s having second thoughts on whatever it is that he’s done, but know that’s not the case.
We manage to get through the gate, it swings shut behind us and I barely get a deep breath in before my stomach sinks along with the fantasy of an oblivious crew: Marco is already here, waiting in front of the Community House. He jogs down the front steps as soon as he sees us and hovers beside my door before we’ve even come to a full stop.
“Would it kill you to take your phone?” He helps me up, already in rescue mode, and begins leading me toward a black SUV parked a few yards ahead, the engine idling quietly. “Charlie is packing your things. I’ve—”
“Slow down. Marco, what is happening?”
He glances over my shoulder at Dad. “You tell me.”
Dad squints against the bright gray sky. A tense moment of silence passes between the two men and I look away, trying not to freak out too much. A few members of the crew loiter on the steps to the Community House, watching us without trying to look like they’re watching us. I don’t see any sign of Sam.
“We were having lunch in town,” Dad explains, “and when we came out, the parking lot was full of photographers. They were asking us about Sam, and Tate, and her trip to London when she was a teenager. No idea how they found us.”
Marco nods slowly. “A mystery.”
I quickly jump in, nodding at Dad as if we’re telling the same story. “They came out of nowhere.”
Marco’s gaze swings to me, and I blink over to him, hoping he catches on that we need to just play it cool here. Marco doesn’t have to get along with Dad, but I do. The press loves my father. I mean, shit, he weathered the scandal of cheating on his wife and abandoning his only child with barely a scratch. And now he’s slipped this story to the press, deciding when and how it’s going to break. He has all the information; he has every single one of the cards in his hands.
Regardless of what he’s done to me, I can’t alienate him.