She splits the deck in half, gives me one stack, and then turns over her first card. Nana motions for me to do the same. I laugh when it registers that, for all of her card expertise, she’s set us up to play the simplest game ever: War.
“You think I can’t handle cribbage or gin, Nana?”
“I think you should give that brain of yours a little break.”
I can’t exactly argue with that.
When I reveal a four, she slides it with her seven into her pile and flips her next card. “I haven’t talked about your grandpa in a while,” she says. “Do you remember anything I’ve told you about him?”
The air in the room seems to go still. Nana and I have always communicated primarily about practicalities: What needs to be done before the breakfast rush. How I need to use colder water for the pie crust. When is it a good time to come down for the holidays. When are my breaks this year.
We don’t talk about her past, her feelings, and certainly not about her husband, who died decades ago. In fact, he died before I was even born. It wasn’t until Grandpa passed away that Nana decided to open the café, had the freedom to do it.
“I know he was in the army and fought in the war,” I say. “ Mom said he loved blackberries and fishing in the river, and she has his eyes. But you and Mom don’t talk much about him.”
“That’s probably because he was a hard man to love,” she says. “And when he died, I think I figured, if I found a difficult man when I was young and pretty, there was no hope for me finding an easy one when I was older, tired, and had a kid.”
I’m so focused on what she’s saying that she has to tap my stack of cards as a reminder to take my turn. I flip over my card—a seven to her ten. She takes them both.
“I know she had her own reasons, but your mom never tried again either.” She flips over a card, a two. It is not at all satisfying to take it with an ace. “She loved your dad. They were genuinely happy for a while, but afterward, she didn’t want to bother with men, either.”
“Must be the Houriet women curse,” I say darkly. I finally turned my phone off a couple hours ago. I’d been looking at it every few minutes, waiting for Sam to call. A watched pot never boils, and a watched phone never rings.
Nana pauses with her next card midair. “Tate. I never wanted that for you. I never wanted you to be closed off like that.” She leans in, catching my eyes. “No matter what happens this time with Sam, I’m glad you tried again.”
Hot tears pool in my eyes, and Nana waves the sentiment away to quickly change the subject. “Have you had anything to eat?”
Before I answer, there’s commotion outside—a chorus of shouting voices followed by the purr of an engine rolling up the drive. I move to the window; relief is a warm flush through my limbs when I see Marco’s car.
But once we all meet him at the door, he steps inside, expression grim. “How’s everything here?”
“Have you talked to Sam?” I ask immediately, a little taken back when he ignores my question and heads straight to the scotch I keep stocked on a bar cart in the living room.
We wait in tense silence while he pours himself a glass and takes a long drink. “Have you seen any of the headlines?” he asks me finally.
A blend of anxiety and irritation simmer in my gut. Gwen has some powerful connections in this town, and I’ve been optimistic in thinking that she’ll be able to pull some strings and get this handled quickly.
“I haven’t looked because I know you’re just starting damage control and I don’t want to freak out,” I say. “Isn’t that what you told me to do? Keep my head down, hang tight until you got here?”
His eyes swing to Charlie. “What about you?”
The moment stretches as they hold each other’s gaze. Finally she gives a small nod.
“Do you want to show her?” he asks.
“Show me what?” I ask, looking between them. “Marco, how bad is it? What the hell is going on?”
Charlie’s shoulders slump in resignation before she walks to the kitchen and returns with her phone in her hand.
“Just scroll,” she says, and tries to hand it to me.
“No,” I say, pushing it away. “I’m not on social media because I don’t want to see people’s shitty opinions.”
Marco sighs. “Tate.”
Finally, I take her phone look at the stories in the Twitter column under the hashtag #TateButler. A link to a TMZ article is right up top, and I open it.
We’ve all read the story: Tate Butler—daughter of superstar Ian Butler—was kept out of the limelight until she was eighteen and ready for her star to shine. Or so we thought. In a blockbuster exclusive this week, we report that Tate and her team weren’t the ones who engineered Tate’s launch back into the public eye, it was a scheming teenage lover, set on cashing in, and eighteen-year-old Tate was blindsided.
And it looks like he’s back in the picture. S. B. Hill—the penname for a Vermont native named Sam Brandis—is the screenwriter of Milkweed (which just wrapped shooting this week in Mendocino, starring—you guessed it—Tate and Ian Butler). He’s also the man who sold Tate Butler out all those years ago. Is their reunion a romantic twist of fate, or is he back for another publicity grab?