There’s a knock just as I start to drift off.
A slice of light stretches across the carpet, and I crack open an eye to see Mom standing in the open doorway.
“Sweetie, your phone was ringing.” She pauses, and then brings it across the room to me.
I look down. Only a handful of people have this number. A notification on the screen tells me I’ve got a voice mail, but I don’t recognize the caller.
Mom slips out at some point while I’m staring down at the screen, half hoping it’s Sam, and half hoping it isn’t. The bliss is not worth the anguish.
Holding the phone to my ear, I listen to the voice, even more gravelly through the line.
“Hey, Tate. It’s me.” A long pause—during which my ribs begin to tightly constrict my lungs—and then a dry laugh. “This is nuts. There are guys with cameras outside my window right now. I just wanted to make sure you knew it wasn’t me this time.”
He falls quiet again, and then clears his throat. “I don’t even know what to say. I wish I’d been able to say goodbye. I don’t know what you need from me—hell, I don’t know what you even want from me at this point, but I’m here. This is my number. Call me when and if you’re ever ready.”
There’s not another house for almost a half mile. The nearest neighbor, a woman Nana’s age named Shirley, seems to have no idea who I am and admits to us when she brings a welcome casserole that her favorite show is and will always be Hill Street Blues. I don’t think we need to worry about Shirley calling up the paper and giving away our location.
Nana takes to baking pies with local ingredients and hand-delivering them to the handful of people within walking distance. Mom sets up an easel on the back deck and tries to capture the sunrise every morning. I walk up and down the beach, searching for intact seashells and hoping that this is the day I wake up and know what the hell I’m going to do about Sam.
By the time we’ve been here a week, it hasn’t happened yet.
Sam hasn’t called again, but—as far as I know—he hasn’t made a statement yet, either.
But on day eight, Marco comes to town with a stack of scripts and the news that in an unrelated interview, Gwen finally addressed the S. B. Hill scandal.
“ ‘Gwen Tippett confirmed that Tate Butler and Sam had a relationship in the past, and reconnected while filming the feature film, Milkweed,’ ” Marco reads, squinting down at his phone. He came directly from a meeting in New York and is sitting barefoot in the sand, wearing what has to be an eight-hundred-dollar suit.
“ ‘When the director was asked if the relationship affected Tate’s performance on-screen, Tippett cheekily hinted that audiences would just have to wait and see.’ ” Marco rolls his eyes. “Very subtle, Gwen.”
I tuck my legs to my chest and pull my sweater around them to keep warm. “So the circus has died down.”
He tosses his phone to the sand beside him, and looks out over the waves. “For the most part. At least until the press junket. Or until someone gets a glimpse of you and Sam together.” When I don’t say anything, I feel him turn to look at me. “Any chance we’ll see that happen?”
“I don’t know.” I chew my thumbnail, thinking. “Was it you who gave him my number?”
I let out a long, slow breath. “Okay.”
“Tell me what you’re feeling, Tate.”
“I miss him. I want to call but then my brain pipes up, reminding me that I did everything too fast last time.” I frown. “And the time before that. I figure this is the time to really think it through and be sure.”
“My parents moved in together after a week,” he says and shrugs. “They’ve been married for fifty-two years. What’s fast to some, isn’t fast to everyone.”
I consider that, wanting it to be true. I think about the first day of filming, seeing him on the trail, and the way it all came back in a rush. Sometimes I’m glad I didn’t have any warning. Would I have still accepted the part? Looking back, it almost seems like fate that—
I stop, my mind snagging on that detail. Something must change in my posture or my expression, because Marco is suddenly leaning toward me.
I reach for my phone in the pocket of my sweater, and start searching through the emails that Terry archived. I scroll through months and months and then there, Tuesday, January 8.
Thursday, March 14.
Wednesday, July 24.
Thursday, July 25.
My head is spinning. I hold my breath, and I read.
To: Tate Butler <[email protected]>
From: S. .B. Hill <[email protected]>
Date: Tuesday, January 8
I’m not sure how to start this email. In fact, I’ve spent years thinking how to start an email to you, but given the news I’ve just heard, I can’t afford to linger too much on the wording.
First, in case you didn’t put the penname to the person, it’s Sam, from London. I realize I have no right writing you. I fully intended to leave you alone after what I did, but this particular situation warrants a heads-up.
You see, I am the writer of Milkweed, and as I understand it, you’ve just signed on for the role of Ellen. From the looks of things, we will be shooting on a small farm in Northern California. The cast and crew are going to be housed together on the farm for the duration of the shoot.