“Or”—he scrutinizes the receipt—“supplies for a really expensive water balloon fight.”

“Visual aids for health class?” I slip my hand into the back pocket of Jase’s jeans.

“Or little raincoats for…” He pauses, stumped.

“Barbie dolls,” I suggest.

“G.I. Joes,” he corrects, and slips his free hand into the back pocket of my jeans, bumping his hip against mine as we head back to the car.

Brushing my teeth that night, listening to the sound of a summer rain battering against the windows, I marvel at how quickly things can completely change. A month ago, I was someone who had to put twenty-five unnecessary items—Q-tips and nail polish remover and Seventeen magazine and mascara and hand lotion—on the counter at CVS to distract the clerk from the box of tampons, the one embarrassing item I needed. Tonight I bought condoms, and almost nothing else, with the boy I’m planning to use them with.

Jase took them all home, since my mom still periodically goes through my dresser drawers to align my clothes in order of color. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t buy the “supplies for a really expensive water balloon fight” excuse. When I asked if Mrs. Garrett would do the same and find them, Jase looked at me in complete mystification.

“I do my own laundry, Sam.”

I’ve never had a nickname. My mother’s always insisted on the full Samantha. Charley occasionally called me “Sammy-Sam” just because he knew it bugged me. But I like being Sam. I like being Jase’s Sam. It sounds relaxed, easygoing, competent. I want to be that person.

I spit out toothpaste, staring at my face in the mirror. Someday, someday not too far away, Jase and I will use those condoms. Will I look different then? How different will I feel? How will we know when to say when?

Chapter Twenty-six

Two days later, Tim’s following my directions to Mom’s campaign office for an interview. He looks like a completely different person than the one at the wheel for the Bacardi run to New Hampshire, neatly clad in a khaki suit with a red and yellow striped tie. He drums his fingers on the steering wheel, lights a cigarette, smokes it, firing up another the moment he’s done.

“You feeling okay?” I ask, indicating that he should turn left at the four-way intersection.

“Like shit.” Tim tosses the latest cigarette butt out the window, punching the lighter down again. “I haven’t had a drink or a joint or anything in days. That’s the longest that’s happened since I was, like, eleven. I feel like shit.”

“You sure you want this job? Campaigning—it’s all show—it makes me feel that way and I’m not even drying out.”

Tim snorts. “Drying out? Who the hell says that? You talk like my frickin’ grandpa.”

I roll my eyes. “Sorry I’m not all down with the current slang. You get my point anyway.”

“I can’t stay home all day with Ma. She drives me up the frigging wall. And if I don’t prove that I’m doing ‘something valuable with my time,’ it’s off to do hard time at Camp Tomahawk.”

“You’re joking. That’s the name of the place your parents want to send you?”

“Somethin’ like that. Maybe it’s Camp Guillotine. Camp Castration? Whatever the hell it is, it doesn’t sound like anyplace I’ll survive. No way I’m gonna have some epiphany about how I need to apply myself to life while living on roots and berries and learning how to build a compass out of spiderwebs or whatever the hell they have you do when they drop you in the wilderness by yourself. That shit is just not me.”

“I think you should go for the job with Jase’s dad.” I point to the right as we come to another intersection. “He’s a lot more relaxed than Mom. Plus, you’d have your evenings free.”

“Jase’s dad runs a goddamn hardware store, Samantha. I don’t know the difference between a screwdriver and a wrench. I’m not Mr. Handyman like lover boy.”

“I don’t think you’d have to fix anything, just sell the tools. It’s this building, right here.”

Tim skids into the driveway of campaign headquarters, where the lawn is plastered with huge red, white, and blue GRACE REED: OUR TOWNS, OUR FAMILIES, OUR FUTURE posters. In some of them she’s wearing a yellow Windbreaker and shaking hands with fisherman or other heroic, salt-of-the-earth types. In others she’s the mom I know, hair coiled high, in a suit, talking to other “movers and shakers.”

Tim hops out and walks up the sidewalk, yanking his tie straight. His fingers are trembling.

“You going to be all right?”

“Will ya quit asking that? It’s not like my answer’s gonna change. I feel like I’m about an eight point nine on the Richter scale.”

“So don’t do this.”

“I gotta do something or I’ll lose what’s left of my mind,” he snaps. Then, glancing at me, his voice softens. “Relax, kid. When not too blasted to pull it off, I’m the master of fakin’ it.”

I’m sitting in the lobby flipping through People magazine and wondering how long this interview will run when I get a call on my cell from Jase.

“Hey, baby.”

“Hey yourself. I’m still at Tim’s interview.”

“Dad said to swing by when you’re done if he wants to interview here. Bonus, the guy on staff kinda has a thing for you.”

“That so? And how is this guy on staff—is he running the four-minute mile in army boots on the shore yet?”

“Actually, no. Still coming up short. I think he was kind of distracted by the girl timing him, last few times he ran.”

“That so? He should probably work on his focus, then, shouldn’t he?”

“No way. He likes his focus right where it is, thanks. See you when you get here.”

I’m smiling into the phone when Tim stomps back out and shakes his head at me. “You two are f**kin’ nauseating.”

“How’d you know it was Jase?”

“Gimme a break, Samantha. I could see you quivering from across the room.”

I change the subject. “So how’d you go over with Mom’s campaign manager?”

“Who is that officious little dude? He definitely gives the words ‘pompous dickhead’ a new dimension. But I’m hired.”