I’m relieved when we get to Doane’s. It’s in this little salt box building near the pier, which divides the mouth of the river from the ocean. Doane’s was the penny candy store back when there was such a thing as penny candy. Now its big draw is Vargas, the candy-corn-pecking chicken—a moth-eaten fake chicken with real feathers for which you have to pay a quarter to activate his frantic OCD pecking of ancient candy corn. For some reason, this is a big tourist draw, along with Doane’s soft ice cream, taffy, and good view of the lighthouse.

Nan scrounges through her wallet. “Samantha! I had twenty dollars. Now I’ve got nothing! I’m going to kill my brother.”

“Doesn’t matter,” I tell her, leafing a few bills from my pocket.

“I’ll pay you back,” Nan tells me, taking the cash.

“It’s no problem, Nanny. So, you want the ice cream?”

“Eventually. So anyway, Daniel took me to New Haven to see a movie last night. I thought we had a great time, but he’s only texted once today and all he said was ‘LVYA’ instead of spelling it all the way out. What do you think that means?”

Daniel’s always been inscrutable to me. He’s the kind of smart that makes you feel stupid.

“Maybe he was in a hurry?”

“With me? If you’re going to take time, shouldn’t it be with your girlfriend?” Nan’s filling her plastic bag with root beer barrels and gummy bears and chocolate-covered malt balls. Sugar rush retail therapy.

I don’t know quite what to say. Finally, without looking at her, I just blurt out what I’ve thought for a while. “Daniel seems like he always makes you nervous. Is that okay?”

Nan’s now contemplating Vargas, who seems to be in the midst of an epileptic fit. He’s no longer pecking the candy corn, just kind of throbbing back and forth. “I wouldn’t know,” she says finally. “Daniel’s my first real boyfriend. You had Charley and Michael. And even Taylor Oliveira back in eighth grade.”

“Taylor doesn’t count. We kissed once.”

“And he told everyone you’d gone all the way!” Nan says, as if this proves her point.

“Right, I’d forgotten that. What a prince. He was the love of my life, it’s true. How was the movie with Daniel?”

Vargas twitches more and more slowly, then shudders to a stop. “The movie?” Nan says vaguely. “Oh, right—The Sorrow and the Pity. Well, it was fine—for a three-hour black-and-white movie about Nazis, but then afterward we went to this coffeehouse and there were some Yale grad students there. Daniel suddenly got completely pretentious and started using words like ‘tautological’ and ‘subtext.’”

I laugh. Although it was Daniel’s brains that drew Nan, his pompous streak is a recurring theme.

“I finally had to haul him out to the car and get him kissing me so he’d stop talking.”

Before the word “kissing” is out of her mouth, I’m picturing Jase Garrett’s lips. Nice lips. Full lower lip, but not pouty or sulky. I turn to look at Nan. She’s bent over the jelly beans, her fine strawberry hair tucked behind one ear, a ragged fingernail in her mouth. Her nose is a little sunburned, peeling, her freckles darker than they were last week. I open my mouth to tell her I met this boy but can’t quite say the words. Even Nan never knew I watched the Garretts. It isn’t exactly that I kept it from her. I just never brought it up. Besides…I met this boy? That story could go anywhere. Or nowhere at all. I turn back to the candy.

“What do you think?” Nan asks. “Do we get Tim his jelly beans? You’re the one with the cash.”

“Yes, let’s get ’em. But only the scary green ones.”

Nan closes the top of her bag with a loud crumple. “Samantha? What are we going to do about him?”

I scoop a clattering cascade of green apple Jelly Bellys into the white paper bag and remember when we were seven. I got stung by a jellyfish. Tim cried because his mother, and mine, wouldn’t let him pee on my leg, which he’d heard was an antidote to the sting. “But Ma, I have the power to save her!” he’d sobbed. That was a joke between us for years: Don’t forget I have the power to save you! Now he can’t even seem to save himself.

“Beyond hoping these are magic beans,” I say, “I have no idea.”

Chapter Eight

The next afternoon, I’m kicking off my work shoes on our porch, preparing to go in to change, when I hear Mrs. Garrett. “Samantha! Samantha, could you come here for a second?”

She’s standing at the end of our driveway, holding Patsy. George is next to her, in only boxers. Farther up the driveway, Harry’s lurking behind a wagon with one of those nozzles that attach to a garden hose in his hand, evidently playing sniper.

As I get up close, I see that she’s again breast-feeding Patsy. She gives me her wide-open smile, and says, “Oh Samantha…I was just wondering. Jase was telling me how great you were with George…and I wondered if you ever—” She stops suddenly, looking more closely at me, her eyes widening.

I look down. Oh. The uniform. “It’s my work outfit. My boss designed it.” I don’t know why I always add this, except to establish that otherwise there’s no way in hell I’d be caught dead in a blue miniskirt and a middy shirt.

“A man, I assume,” Mrs. Garrett says dryly.

I nod.

“Naturally. Anyway…” She begins talking in a rush. “I wondered if you might ever be interested in doing some babysitting? Jase didn’t want me to ask you. He was afraid you’d think that he lured unsuspecting girls into our house so that I could exploit them for my own needs. Like some desperate mom version of white slavery.”

I laugh. “I didn’t think that.”

“Of course you wouldn’t.” She grins at me again. “I know everyone must believe I do that, ask every girl I see if they baby sit, but I don’t. Very few people are good with George straight off, and Jase said you got him right away. I can use the older children, of course, but I hate making them feel as though I expect it. Alice, for example, always acts as though it’s a huge burden.” She’s talking fast, as though she’s nervous. “Jase never minds, but his job at the hardware store and his training take most of his time, so he’s gone a lot, except one afternoon a week, and of course part of the weekend. Anyway, I only need a few hours here and there.”