“When you turned into such an ass**le.” I brush past him with my tray full of dirty dishes. Tears spring to my eyes. Don’t, I think. But Tim used to know me as well as anyone could.

“Trouble?” Ernesto the cook asks, looking up from the six frying pans he’s got going simultaneously. Breakfast Ahoy is not a health food restaurant.

“Just some jerk.” I dump the dishes into the bussing bin with a clatter.

“Nothing new there. Damn town full of damn folks with silver spoons up their damn…”

Oops. Inadvertently activated Ernesto’s “favorite rant” button. I tune him out, paste on a fierce smile, and go back to deal with Tim, but the flash of a dirty plaid pajama cuff and the slam of the door is the only sign of him. There’s a skim of coins on the table by the door, and a few more on the ground. The rest of my tip is gone.

There was this day a few weeks into seventh grade at Hodges, before Tim got kicked out, when I’d forgotten my lunch money and was looking for Tracy or Nan. Instead I ran into Tim, sitting in the bushes with the worst of the worst of Hodges’ stoner crowd—Tim, who, as far as I knew till then, was as innocent of all that stuff as me and Nan. The hub of the crowd was Drake Marcos, this senior druggie guy who always hung with an equally well-baked posse. Quite the achievement for the college essay.

“Oh, it’s Tracy Reed’s sister. Take a load off, Tracy Reed’s sister. You look tense. You need to re-laaax,” Drake said. The other kids laughed as though he was hysterically funny. I glanced at Tim, who was staring at his feet.

“Walk on the wild side, Tracy Reed’s sister.” Drake waved a bag of—I didn’t even know what—at me.

I made some lame comment about how I had to get to class, which Drake enjoyed riffing on for several seconds with lots of sycophantic chortles from his loyal groupies.

I started to leave, then turned back and called “Come on” to Tim, who was still staring at his loafers.

That was when he finally looked at me. “Fuck off, Samantha.”

Chapter Twelve

It takes me a while to shake off Tim’s visit, but things at Breakfast Ahoy come at you fast, and that helps.

Today, however, it’s all bad.

The morning also features a woman who becomes extremely indignant when we can’t allow her cockapoo to sit at the table with her and a man with two extremely cranky toddlers who throw the jam and sugar packets at me, and squirt mustard and ketchup into their napkin dispenser. As I walk home, I check my cell messages, finding one from Mom, still sounding peeved, telling me to clean the house: “Make it immaculate,” she emphasizes. And then “Make yourself scarce, as Clay’s bringing those donors over.”

My mother has never asked me to make myself scarce. Is it because I asked about Clay? I walk up the driveway, pondering this, then see the vacuum cleaner, still sprawled like a vagrant.

“Samantha!” Jase calls from around our fence. “You okay? Looks like life was tough today on the bounding main.”

“No sailor jokes, please. Believe me, I’ve heard ’em all.”

He walks closer, smiling, shaking his head. Today he’s wearing a white T-shirt that makes him look even tanner. “I bet you have. Seriously, are you all right? You look, uh, disheveled, and that’s rare for you.”

I explain about cleaning the house and making myself scarce. “And,” I say as I kick it, “the vacuum cleaner is broken.”

“I can fix that. Let me get my kit.” He jogs off before I can say anything. I go inside, ditch the sailor garb, and pull on a light blue sundress. I’m pouring lemonade when Jase knocks.

“In the kitchen!”

He comes in, carrying the vacuum cleaner in both arms like an accident victim, his tool kit dangling from one thumb. “Which is the part of your house that isn’t clean?”

“My mother’s kind of particular.”

Jase nods, raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t say anything. He sets the vacuum cleaner down on the tile, opens the toolbox, and cocks his head at it, searching for the right utensil, evidently. I stare at the muscles in his arms and suddenly have such a strong urge to reach out and run my fingers down them that it scares me. Instead, I spray the countertop with disinfectant and attack it with a paper towel. Out damned spot.

He’s got the vacuum cleaner fixed in less than five minutes. The culprit was apparently one of Clay’s cufflinks. I suppress the image of Mom wrestling it off in a frenzy of cougar lust. Then Jase helps me reclean the immaculate downstairs.

“Hard to feel I’m making progress when it was already so perfect,” he says, vacuuming under an armchair cushion as I adjust the already symmetrically aligned throw pillows. “Maybe we should get George and Patsy over here, use some Play-Doh and finger paints and then make brownies, so there’s actually something to clean.”

When we’re done Jase asks, “Do you have a curfew?”

“Eleven o’clock,” I say, confused since it’s just early afternoon.

“Get a jacket and your bathing suit, then.”

“What are we doing?”

“You’re supposed to make yourself scarce, right? Come get lost in the crowd at my house, then we’ll figure something else out.”

As always, the contrast between the Garretts’ yard and ours is extreme—Dorothy walking out of black and white and into Technicolor. Alice is playing Frisbee with some guy. Little shrieks and screams are coming from the pool. Harry’s whacking away at a T-ball stand, but with a tennis racket. Alice wings the Frisbee at Jase, who catches it easily and throws it to the guy—not Cleve-who-knew-the-score, but a hulking football-player type. I hear Mrs. Garrett saying loudly from the pool area, “George! What did I tell you about peeing in here?”

Then the screen door bursts open and Andy charges out, carrying about five different bathing suits. “Alice! You have to help me.”

Alice rolls her eyes. “Just pick one, Andy. It’ll be fine. It’s only a date.”

Andy, a pretty fourteen-year-old with braces, shakes her head, looking near tears. “A date with Kyle. Kyle! Alice. I’ve never even been asked on a date and now I have. And you won’t even help.”

“What’s up, Ands?” Jase walks over to her.

“Kyle Comstock. From sailing camp? I’ve practically capsized the boat looking at him for three whole summers now? He asked me to go to the beach and then the Clam Shack. Alice is completely and totally no help whatsoever. All Mom says is to wear sunscreen.”