“I know,” I say, sitting down. “Just filling out the paperwork. And I was wondering…I need to…I’m hoping to get back on the swim team this year. So I want to train. I wondered if maybe I could come in an hour early, before the pool opens, and swim in the Olympic pool?” Mr. Lennox leans back in his chair, impassive. “I mean, I can use the ocean and the river, but I need to get my timing down, and it’s easier if I’m sure how far I’m going and how fast.”

He tents his fingers under his nose. “The pool opens at ten a.m.”

I try not to let my shoulders slump. Swimming with Jase the other night, competing, even in a casual way, felt so good. I hated giving up swim team. My grades in math and science dipped to B’s midway through fall semester, and so Mom insisted. But maybe if I up my time and try really hard…

Mr. Lennox continues: “On the other hand, your mother is a valuable member of our board of directors…” He moves his fingers away from his face enough to show a tiny smile. “And you yourself have always been a Most Satisfactory Employee. You may make use of the pool—as long as you follow the other rules—shower first, use a bathing cap, and Do Not Let Another soul Know of our Arrangement.”

I jump up. “Thank you, Mr. Lennox. I won’t, I promise. I mean, I’ll do everything you say. Thank you.”

Nan’s waiting outside when I emerge. When she sees my smile, she says, “You do realize that this is probably the only time in his entire existence that Lennox has colored outside the lines? I don’t know whether to congratulate him or keep pitying him.”

“I really want this,” I tell her.

“You were always happier when you were swimming,” Nan agrees. “And a little out of shape now, maybe?” she adds casually. “It’ll be good for you.”

I turn to look at her, but she’s already a few steps away, heading back down the hall.

I have the late shift at Breakfast Ahoy the next day, nine to one instead of six to eleven. So I decide to make myself a smoothie while Mom frowns at her phone messages. This is the first time I’ve really seen her in days, and I wonder if now’s the time to tell her about Clay. I decide I will just as she snaps her phone shut and opens the refrigerator door, tapping her open-toed sandal on the floor. Mom always does this in front of the fridge, as though she’s expecting the bowl of strawberries to shout “Eat ME” or the orange juice to jump out and pour itself into a glass.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

This is a favorite technique too, silence so loud someone has to start talking to fill it. I open my mouth again, but to my surprise, it’s Mom who speaks first.

“Sweetheart. I’ve been thinking about you.”

And the way she says it, I just can’t help myself. “About my summer schedule?” I ask, and instantly feel guilty for the sarcasm under my words.

Mom takes a carton of eggs out, stares at it, returns it to the refrigerator.

“That, certainly. This election won’t be easy. It’s not like the first time I ran, when my only opposition was that crazy Libertarian man. I could lose my seat if I don’t work hard. That’s why I’m so grateful for Clay. I need to concentrate, and know you girls are taken care of. Tracy…” More foot tapping. “Clay thinks I shouldn’t worry. Let her go. She’ll be off to college in the fall, after all. But you…How can I explain this in a way you’ll understand?”

“I’m seventeen. I understand everything.” I have another flash of Clay and that woman. How do I bring it up? I lean past her for the strawberries.

Mom reaches out to flick my cheek with a finger. “It’s when you say things like that that I remember how very young you are.” Then her face softens. “I know it’ll be hard for you to get used to Tracy being gone. Me too. It’ll be quiet around here. You understand that I’m going to have to be working hard all summer, don’t you, sweetie?”

I nod. The house already seems still without Tracy’s off-key singing in the shower or her heels hammering down the stairs.

Mom pulls the filtered water out of the refrigerator and pours it into the teakettle. “Clay says I’m bigger than this position. I could be important. I could be something more than the woman with the trust fund who bought her way into power.”

There were a lot of editorials that said exactly that when she won the first time. I read them, winced, and hid the paper, hoping Mom never saw them. But of course she did.

“It’s been so long since anyone has looked at me and really seen me,” she adds suddenly, standing there holding the filtered water. “Your father…well, I thought he did. But then…after him…you get busy and you get older…and nobody really looks your way anymore. You and Tracy…She’s off to college in the fall. That’ll be you in another year. And I think…It’s their turn now? Where did my chance go? It only took Clay a little while to come to terms with the fact that I had teenaged daughters. He sees me, Samantha. I can’t tell you how good that feels.” She turns and looks at me, and I’ve never seen her…glow like this.

How can I say “Uh—Mom—I think he might be seeing someone else too”?

I think of Jase Garrett, how he seems to understand without me having to explain things. Does Mom feel that way with Clay? Please don’t let him be some skeevy womanizer.

“I’m glad, Mom,” I say. I hit BLEND and the kitchen fills with the sound of pulverizing strawberries and ice.

She brushes the hair off my forehead, then sets the filtered water down and hovers near my elbow until I turn off the blender. Then silence.

“You two, you and Tracy,” she finally says to my back, “are the best things that ever happened to me. Personally. But there’s more to life than personal things. I don’t want you to be the only things that ever happen to me. I want…” Her voice trails off and I turn around to find her looking away, off somewhere I can’t see. Suddenly, I feel afraid for her. As she stands there, her expression dreamy, she seems like a woman—not my mother, the vacuum cleaner queen, who rolls her eyes at the Garretts, at any uncertainty at all. I’ve only met Clay twice, really. He has charm, I guess, but apparently my dad did too. Mom’s always said that bitterly—“Your father had charm”—as though charm were some illicit substance he’d used on her that made her lose her mind.