The sand was still wet when Sam formed the bowl-like depression with her hands. She used a stick to draw the circle around her, as though it would protect her from the photographers that she could see lounging against the rocks. The tide was going out and there were crabs scrabbling in the early moonlight.
She poured the white wine into the bowl she’d created and sat on the beach. She drew her knees up to her chin and sat watching the moonlight play along the tips of the water. It was quiet here. There were no planes flying overhead, no cars close enough to the beach to be heard. The sea-birds had retired for the night. The people had abandoned the space.
She closed her eyes in relief. “Oh, Mother,” she murmured – half to the moon, half to the water. “This gift is too much for me to bear.”
Her hair was pulled back in a sensible braid and the stone tiara that she’d received in the deep forest rested on the top of her head. She couldn’t lose if she tried. It always reappeared on the wardrobe when she was ready to do her hair. She’d tried leaving it in her backpack, but it appeared in her pocket. She wasn’t that thick.
This morning had been one of the better ones. She and Mom had managed to hide away at a small apartment near the beach. It had a gate and a security system which was more than she could say for their home.
Sam buried her face against her drawn up knees. The tears that streamed down her face were from relief. There hadn’t been a single sick child on her doorstep this morning. In fact, there had only been one reporter within range of the door. She didn’t recognize the writer, but she knew the photographer with him. It was Partridge. Paul Emery Partridge. Last time she’d seen him, he’d been thirty years younger, with more hair and fewer wrinkles. She’d been looking forward to the date too.
She sniffled into the soft cotton of her pants. She didn’t have her camera with her tonight. It was just as well. She couldn’t see through the tears to take anything approaching a good picture. There was a crunch of rocks and she lifted her head. The feather that was tied into her hair tickled her behind her ear. Paul stopped at the edge of her circle. He sat down carefully. He held the camera up for her inspection.
“You’ve been using that one a long time. Do they actually still allow you to get away with putting in prints? All the bastards I’ve been submitting to want digital.” She scrubbed away some tears with the side of her hand.
Paul snorted. “I scan them in. And I use a digital for most things. But moonlight and you? There was no way that I wasn’t going to use film.” His smile quirked up. “I waited for almost a year,” he said quietly. “It took me that long to find out you weren’t going to call.”
“No my choice,” Sam said. She blinked rapidly. No more tears tonight, she told herself. “We could have been a great team.”
Paul shook his head. “Or we would have killed each other within six months.”
“Or that.” They were quiet, letting the sounds of the ocean and the slight breeze fill the space between them. “You want pictures. For who?”
“That’s my son. Goes by his mother’s last name though. James O’Rourke.”
“You and Twyla?”
“Me and Twyla.” He smiled fully then. “She put up with me moping about you for years. Jamie just wants to know what was so important about you. I don’t think I can explain it.”
Sam considered breaking the circle. It wasn’t as though she’d put a lot of power into the ceremony, but she still felt – not obligated exactly – impelled to finish it. That meant staying until the moon was directly overhead. A fresh beginning with Paul. “Friends,” she said finally. “We were friends and we might have been more, but that was a long time ago for you. And with everything that’s happened? Somehow, I don’t think you’re planning to try anything with me.”
“I didn’t actually marry Twyla.”
“So? You did have a child with her. Are you still together?”
“We are. It’s been twenty-five years now. Jamie’s twenty-six.”
“Did you pitch the article to someone? Did you tell them that we’d been friends? Or did you just try to get by on the photo-journalist angle.”
Paul laughed. It was a rolling sound of genuine amusement. “I’d forgotten how blunt you really are. This public face you’ve developed is so different.”
“I haven’t developed anything. It’s the news. It’s so different. There’s so many more people talking and I have no idea where to start.”
He bit his lip. “I’ll get you the name of a reputable PR firm. Maybe you can get someone to look out for you.”
“Right. I’m broke, Pauley. I’m dead broke. I’ve been trying to sell my photography, but people are treating them like holy relics, not like prints from a forest.” She shook her head. “But tell him to come on over. I won’t bite. I won’t even get too mad about it. At least you’re not bringing him to me dying from leukemia.” She took a shaky breath. “At least I hope you aren’t.”
“No. He’s fine. I’m fine. Twyla’s fine.” He waved his son over. The younger man jogged across the sand. His father stopped him before he tried to reach into the circle. “Jamie, that is her demarkation zone, okay. Stay on this side of it.”
James nodded. “Nice to actually meet you, Ms. King.”
“Call me Sam or Sammy.” She looked the young man up and down. They were the same age. At least, that’s what it felt like to her. It was just that their lives were so different. “Your dad tells me we’re the same age. That is just plain weird. How long have you been a journalist?”
James looked more like Twyla than Paul. His hair had tight blond curls but there was a dusky tone to his skin that indicated that he tanned better than an O’Rourke. The nose was Twyla’s though. The ears were pure Paul – sticking out a little from the sides of James’ head like Prince Charles. At least Charles was still alive. “I’ve been working on papers since high school. I’ve been freelancing for a couple years now. I started when I was still in college.”
She smiled. A happy story. No one dead or dying in the family. It was such a relief. Paul’s hands lifted automatically to take the shot and she held still for him. She wasn’t sure what someone would see. Maybe the moonlight on half or her face. Or maybe just her teeth glinting. This was one interview that wasn’t going to destroy her calm. “Thank you, Mother,” she murmured.
When she looked back at the offering bowl, the wine was gone.