“He’s got me doing his old workout. He had Division Two colleges looking at him until he blew out his knee, so I need to bulk up. It means running in the water knee-deep, and that’s still a killer for me.”

“Jason—all set?” Mr. Garrett calls.

“Coming.” He drops his gloves to the ground, sliding his bare palms up my arms, then edging me into the shade of one of the bushes. I want to lean into him, but I’m still tense. Beyond his head, I see Tim, sorting coins in his hand, headed for the snack bar. He looks over at us, takes in the scene, smirks, then wags an index finger at us. Tsk-tsk.

“I’ll respect the uniform and hold off on the fraternizing,” Jase says, kissing my cheek. “But I’ll see you tonight.”

“Uniform-free,” I add, then clap my hand over my mouth.

He grins, but says only: “Works for me.”

Chapter Sixteen

Jase holds his hand against the windowpane, bumping it only gently, but I’m so alert for the sound that I hear it, throw the window open, and climb out all in under twenty seconds.

He indicates the blanket spread out on the roof.

“Prepared!” I comment, sliding down next to him.

He reaches for me, slipping an arm around my neck. “I try to think ahead. Plus, I needed incentive to finish the last bit of training, so I thought about meeting you up here.”

“I was incentive?”

“You were.” His arm is warm behind me. I curl my toes at the bottom of the blanket, brushing against the still-warm roof tiles. It’s nearly nine o’clock and the last bit of day is losing the battle against the dark. Another starry night.

“The stars are different around the world, did you know? If we were in Australia, we’d see a whole new sky.”

“Not just backward?” Jase pulls me closer, pillowing my head on his chest. I take a deep breath of warm skin and clean shirt. “Or upside down? Completely different?”

“Mostly different,” I tell him. “It’s winter in Australia, so they see the Summer Cross…and Orion’s belt. And this orangey red star, Aldebaran, which is part of the eye of Taurus. You know, the bull.”

“So how is it, exactly,” he asks, tracing his finger idly around the collar of my shirt, a mesmerizing motion, “that you became an astrophysicist?”

“Kind of a roundabout way.” I close my eyes, breathe in the smell of cut grass, Mom’s rosebushes, Jase’s clean skin.

“Go on,” he says, sliding the finger up my throat to follow the line of my jaw, then back down along the collar. I feel almost hypnotized by that simple motion and find myself telling a story I’ve never told.

“You know how my dad left my mom before I was born?”

He nods, his brow furrowing, but doesn’t say anything.

“Well, I don’t really know how it happened—she doesn’t talk about it. Whether she kicked him out or he just left or they had some big fight or…what. But he left behind some stuff—in this big box that my mom was supposed to mail to him. I guess. But she was about to have me, and Trace was really little too, only just over a year old. So she didn’t send it, she just stuck it in the back of the front hall closet.”

I’ve always thought this was so unlike Mom, not to sweep up every bit.

“Tracy and I found the box when we were about five and six. We thought it was a Christmas present or something. So we opened it, all excited. But it was just full of random things—old T-shirts with band names on them, cassette tapes, pictures of these big gatherings of people we didn’t know, sports gear. One sneaker. Stuff. Not what we were hoping for, once we realized what it was.”

“What were you hoping for?” Jase’s voice is quiet.

“Treasure. Old diaries or something. His Barbie collection.”

“Er…your dad collected Barbies?”

I laugh. “Not that I know of. But we were little girls. We would have preferred that to some smelly shoes and old R.E.M. and Blind Melon T-shirts.”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Now Jase’s finger has edged down my shorts, tracing the same slow line along the waistband. I take a hard-to-catch breath.

“Anyway, at the very bottom there was this telescope. A fancy one, but still all wrapped up, like he’d gotten it but never opened it. Or someone had given it to him and he didn’t want it. So I took it and hid it in my closet.”

“Then you used it? On the roof?” Jase shifts, propping himself up on an elbow now, looking at my face.

“Not on the roof, just from my window. I couldn’t figure out the directions for a few years. But after that, yeah, I used it. Looking for aliens, finding the Big Dipper, that kind of thing.” I shrug.

“Wondering where your dad was, at all?”

“Oh, maybe. Probably. At first. After that I just got hooked by the idea of all those planets far away, all those other stories.”

Jase nods, as though this makes sense to him.

I find myself feeling a little shaky. “Now it’s your turn.”

“Hmm?” He circles my belly button with that light finger. Oh my God.

“Tell me a story.” I turn my head, bury my lips in the worn cotton of his shirt. “Tell me things I don’t know.”

So, with nothing to be distracted by, no brothers and sisters bursting in, no crowd of friends, no awkward on-the-job moment, just me and Jase, I learn things about the Garretts I couldn’t by watching. I learn that Alice is in nursing school. Jase raises his eyebrow at me when I laugh at this. “What, you don’t see my big sister as a ministering angel? I’m shocked.” Duff’s allergic to strawberries. Andy was born two months early. All the Garretts are musical. Jase plays the guitar, Alice the piccolo, Duff the cello, Andy the violin. “And Joel?” I ask.

“Oh, the drums, of course,” Jase says. “It was the clarinet, but then he realized that was just not a turn-on.”

The soft air smells sweet and leafy. Feeling the slow beat of Jase’s heart beneath my cheek, I close my eyes and relax. “How was the training?”

“I’m a little sore,” Jase admits. “But Dad knows what he’s doing. It worked for Joel, anyway. He got a full ride at State U for football.”

“So where are you applying, to college—do you know yet?”