Jase props himself up on one elbow, looking squarely at him. “Well, provided that stock boy isn’t still drinking, et cetera, taking my girlfriend on a joyride when he’s hammered. Ever again.” His voice is flat. He watches Tim for another moment, then lies back down.

Tim turns, if possible, slightly paler, then flushes. “Uh…Well…I…uh…” He glances at me, at Nan, then returns his attention to the hangnail. Silence.

“Well, restocking and stuff might not be thrilling, but that’s probably a good thing,” Nan says after a minute or two. “What do you think, Timmy?”

Tim’s still focusing on his thumb. Finally, he looks up. “Unless Alice does restocking too, preferably spending most of her time on a ladder in those little short-shorts, I’m thinking I’ll talk to gorgeous Grace about politics. I like politics. You get to manipulate people and lie and cheat and it’s all good.”

“From what I read, Samantha’s mom prefers to think of it as working for the common weal.” Jase stretches his arms over his head, yawning. I sit up, surprised to hear Jase recite Mom’s last campaign slogan, the one Clay Tucker mocked so mercilessly. Jase and I never mention politics. But he must have been paying attention to hers all along.

“Cool. Sign me up. I’ll be a cog in the common weal. With my track record, I’ll probably be able to screw up all three branches of government in about a week and a half,” Tim says. “Does hot Alice have any interest in politics?”

Mom gets back early, luckily after Nan and Tim have trudged home and Jase is again training. She has a meet-and-greet in East Stonehill tonight and wants me to come along. “Clay says that since I’m focusing on family, we really need to see more of mine.” I stand next to her at Moose Hall for approximately eight thousand years, repeating “Yes, I’m so proud of my mother. Please vote for her,” while she shakes hand after hand after hand.

When she first got elected, this was kind of fun and exciting. All these people I’d never met who seemed to know me, happy to meet us. Now it just seems surreal. I listen hard to Mom’s speech, trying to analyze how things have changed. She’s much more assured, with all these new hand gestures—chopping the air, arms outspread in appeal, hands crossed over her heart…but it’s more than that. Last time, it was mostly local issues Mom talked about, and mildly. But now she’s taking on federal spending and the size of government, and the unfair taxation of the wealthy, who create all the jobs…“You’re not smiling,” Clay Tucker says, bumping up next to me. “So I figured you were hungry. These hors d’oeuvres are amazing. I’ll take over while you eat a few.” He hands me a plate of shrimp cocktail and stuffed clams.

“How much longer does this go on?” I ask, dunking a shrimp.

“Till the last handshake, whenever that is, Samantha.” He gestures at my mom with a toothpick. “Look at Grace. You’d never know she’d been doing this for two hours and her shoes probably hurt and she might need to visit the little girls’ room. She’s a pro, your mama.”

Mom does indeed look fresh and calm and cool. She’s bending her head to listen to an old man as though he’s the most important thing in her world. Somehow I’ve never seen her ability to fake it as a strength but right now, I guess it is.

“You gonna eat that?” Clay asks, spearing a scallop before I can answer.

Chapter Twenty-four

Late that night, I’m lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, fresh out of the shower, wearing a white nightgown I’ve had since I was eight. It used to be romantically long; now it clings to my thighs.

Mom’s finally admitted exhaustion and has gone to bed in her suite. For the first time I find myself wondering if Clay’s ever spent the night here. I wouldn’t even know if he had—her rooms are on the other side of the house and there are stairs from the yard. Ugh, don’t think about that.

There’s a tap at my window, and I look over to find a hand splayed on the glass. Jase. Seeing him is like that feeling you get when you’ve gotten the wind knocked out of you and then can, at last, draw a deep, full breath. I go over, put my hand against his, then push up the window.

“Hey. Can I come in?”

He does, gracefully, legs planting themselves firmly, while ducking carefully under the transom, as though he’s done this a thousand times before. Then he looks around the room and smiles at me. “It’s so tidy, Sam. I’ve gotta do this.”

He takes off one of his sneakers and tosses it toward my desk, then the other, carefully and quietly, toward the door. Then one sock, hurled to the top of my bureau, and the other, into the bookcase.

“Don’t hold back.” I catch hold of his shirt, yank it off, and throw it across the room, where it hooks onto my desk chair.

As I’m reaching for him, he puts his hand on my arm. “Sam.”

“Hmmm,” I say, distracted by the thin line of hair that circles his belly button and edges lower.

“Should I be worried?”

I look up at him, my thoughts scattered. “About what?”

“The fact that you’re apparently the one girl on the planet who doesn’t tell her best friend everything the moment it happens. I have sisters, Sam. I thought that was a rule—the best friend knows all. Yours didn’t even know I existed.”

“Nan?” I ask quickly, then realize I don’t know what else to say. “It’s kind of complicated with her. She’s got a lot going on…I just thought I’d…” I shrug.

“You’re being considerate?” Jase asks, moving away from me and sitting down on the bed. “Not ashamed?”

I feel the breath whoosh out of my lungs and can’t seem to take the next breath. “Of you? No. No. Never. I just…” I bite my lip.

His eyes assess my face. “I’m not trying to put you on the spot. Just figuring out what’s what. You’re…I don’t know…the ‘State Senator’s Daughter.’ I’m…well…‘one of those Garretts’—as Lindy’s dad used to say.”

He says the phrase as though it’s in quotes, and I can’t stand it. I sit down on the bed next to him, put one hand on his cheek.

“I’m just me,” I tell him. “I’m glad you’re here.”