“Or even seventeen.” Jase flips the signal switch to ease off the interstate.
“Or even seventeen,” I concur. Not for the first time, I wonder how much experience Jase has had.
When we pull up outside the Masons’ house, Alice and Nan have evidently just pulled in themselves. They’re standing outside the Bug, debating. Most of the lights in the Masons’ house are dark, just a faint orange glow coming from the bowed living room windows, and two porch lights flickering.
“Can’t we please get him in without anyone seeing?” Nan’s begging, her thin fingers clutching Alice’s arm.
“The real question is whether we should get him in without anyone seeing. This is not the sort of thing your parents shouldn’t know about.” Alice’s tone is deliberately patient, as though she’s already been through this several times.
“Alice’s right,” Jase interjects. “If he doesn’t get caught, well, maybe if I hadn’t that time with Lindy, I’d have discovered a taste for shoplifting. This is more than just that…If nobody knows how bad it’s gotten, Tim could find himself in this situation again, with a different outcome. So could you. So could Samantha.”
Alice nods, looking at Nan but addressing her brother. “Remember River Fillipi, Jase? His parents let him get away with anything, turned a blind eye to everything. He ended up blindsiding three cars before he hit the median on 1-95.”
“But you don’t understand. Tim’s in so much trouble already. My parents want him to go away to some awful military camp. That’s the last thing that’s going to help. The very last thing. I know he’s an idiot and sort of a loser, but he’s my brother—” Nan cuts off abruptly. Her voice is shaking, along with the rest of her. I go over and take her hand. I think of those awkward dinners I’ve had at their house, Mr. Mason’s unseeing gaze at the table, Mrs. Mason prattling on about how she stuffs her artichokes. I feel as though I’m on a seesaw swaying back and forth between what I know is right and true, and every past moment and reason I know has led to this. Jase and Alice are right, but Tim’s such a mess, and I keep remembering him saying, so lost, I don’t know what the hell’s the matter with me.
“Can you sneak in and open the bulkhead door?” I ask Nan. “Maybe we could get Tim down to the basement and he can crash in the rec room. He’ll be in better shape to face it all in the morning anyway.”
Nan takes a deep breath. “I can do that.” We look at Alice and Jase.
Alice shrugs, frowning. “If that’s what you want, but it seems all wrong to me.”
“They know the situation better than we do,” Jase points out. “Okay, Nan. Go open the cellar door. We’ll get this guy in there.”
Naturally, as we’re carrying him in, Tim wakes up, disoriented, and throws up all over Alice. I pinch my nose. The smell’s enough to make anyone gag. Surprisingly, Alice doesn’t get angry, just rolls her eyes and, without any self-consciousness at all, whips off her ruined shirt. We sling Tim, who, despite being thin, is tall and not easily portable, onto the couch. Jase fetches a bucket from beside the washing machine and puts it next to him. Nan sets out a glass of water and some aspirin. Tim lies on his back, looking pale, pale, pale. He opens reddened eyes, focuses hazily on Alice in her black lace bra, says, “Whoa.” Then passes out again.
I got in big trouble for being ten minutes late for curfew last time. But tonight, when I actually was involved in a life-threatening incident, one in which I definitely could have used better, swifter judgment—why on earth didn’t I call 911 on my cell and report a drunk driver?—on this night when the VW pulls into our driveway, the house lights are dark. Mom isn’t even home yet.
“Dodged more than one bullet tonight, Samantha.” Jase hops out to open my door.
I go around to the driver’s side. “Thanks,” I tell Alice. “You were great to do this. Sorry about your shirt.”
Alice fixes me with a stare. “No sweat. If the only thing that idiot comes out of this with is a horrible hangover and a dry-cleaning bill, he’s way luckier than he has any right to be. Jase deserves better than trauma over some girl who made dumb choices and wound up dead.”
“Yes, he does.” I look right back at her. “I know that.”
She turns to Jase. “I’ll go home now, J. You can say good night to your damsel in distress.”
That one stings. Blood rushes to my face. We get to the front door and I lean back against it. “Thank you,” I repeat.
“You’d have done the same for me.” Jase puts his thumb under my chin and tips it up. “It’s nothing.”
“Well, except that I can’t drive, and you never would have gotten yourself into that situation and—”
“Shhh.” He pulls on my lower lip gently with his teeth, then fits his mouth to mine. First so careful, and then so deep and deliberate, that I can’t think of anything at all but his smooth back under my hands. My fingers travel to the springy-soft texture of his hair, and I lose myself in the movement of his lips and his tongue. I’m so glad I’m still alive to feel all those things.
When I get to the B&T—an hour early—the next day, I head straight for the pool. I breathe in the chlorine scent, then focus on the steady back and forth motion of my strokes. The routine is coming back. Swim no rest, kick no rest, stroke drill, rest, breath to right, breath to left, breath every third stroke. And so is the timing. Everything else falls away. Forty-five minutes later, I shake out my hair, cupping my hands to my ears to get out the water, then head into Buys by the Bay to find Nan.
Who hasn’t answered any of my texts. I’m imagining the worst. Her parents heard us, came down, and Tim’s already en route to some hard-core camp in the Midwest where he’s going to have to chip granite and eventually get shot by an angry counselor.
But then Nan wouldn’t be calmly sorting aprons in the corner of the store, would she? Maybe she would. Like my mother, my best friend sometimes puts order over the physical world first.
“What’s up with Tim?”
Nan turns around, leans her elbows back against the counter, and looks at me. “He’s fine. Let’s talk about what really matters. Which wasn’t important enough to tell me. Why?”