Long silence, and I start to worry. Then her eyes meet mine, she quickly crosses hers, and begins. “We are accustomed now, in this country, in this time, to celebrate what we have. Or what we want. Not what we lack. On this day that celebrates what our forefathers dreamed and hoped for us, I would like to celebrate the four freedoms…and to note that…while two, freedom of speech and freedom of worship, celebrate what we have, an equal number celebrate what we are missing…freedom from want…freedom from fear.”

The microphone is a little squeaky, periodically sounding out a high-pitched whine. Mom has her head tilted to the side, taking the speech in intently, as though she didn’t hear Nan rehearse it half a dozen times. Tracy and Flip are knocking their feet together, hands intertwined, but both their faces are somber. I look into the crowd to find Mrs. Mason, her hands clasped under her chin, and Mr. Mason, his eyes fixed on Nan, shoulder tipped toward his wife. I search for Tim, only to find him with his head ducked, his fists over his eyes.

When Nan winds to a close, the applause is thunderous. She turns the shade of her hair, bobs a quick curtsy, and backs up to sit in the bleachers next to Mom.

“Could that have been more beautifully stated?” Mom calls. “The Fourth of July is a day to celebrate what our forefathers chose—and what they refused—what they dreamed for us, and what we made reality from the power of their dreams.”

There’s a lot more in that vein, but what I see is Nan being hugged by her parents, her mom and dad finally celebrating Nan’s accomplishments, not focusing on Tim’s disasters, her face so joyous above their interlocked arms. I look around for Tim, expecting to see him close the circle, but he’s gone.

Mom goes on with her speech, freedom and choice and how we stand strong. Clay, now planted back in one of the last rows, flashes her a smile and a thumbs-up.

The wreath to commemorate soldiers lost is dropped after the slow march down the hill to the harbor, and Winnie Teixeira from the elementary school plays Taps. Then everyone recites the Pledge of Allegiance, and the formal part of the Fourth of July disbands into getting cotton candy, frozen lemonade, and Italian ices from carts set up by Doane’s.

I look for Nan, but she’s in the crowd with her parents. Tracy and Flip are rapidly moving away from Mom, Tracy calling something over her shoulder and waving. Mom’s in a swarm of people, shaking hands and signing things and…erk…kissing babies. Mom doesn’t even like babies, but you would never know it as she exclaims over a series of tiny, bald, drooling citizens. I stand there irresolutely, wondering if I’m supposed to stay by her all day, wanting only to get rid of my itchy childish dress and go someplace cool.

Arms come around my waist from behind me then and Jase’s lips nuzzle my neck. “What, Sam? No uniform? I was trying to guess whether you’d be the Statue of Liberty or Martha Washington.”

I turn in his arms. “Sorry to disappoint you.”

More kissing. I’ve turned into someone who kisses on a public street. I open my eyes, pull back, glancing around for my mom.

“You hunting for Tim too?”

“Tim? No—”

“He came by the stand,” Jase says, “looking kinda grim. We should find him.”

We stay by the turnstile at the top of Main Street for a while, me perching on the white brick stand, Jase using his height to scan around, but there’s no sign of Tim. Then I see him, stark in his black tuxedo with all the festive summer colors, talking to Troy Rhodes, our ever-dedicated local drug dealer.

“He’s over there.” I nudge Jase.

“Great.” Jase bites his lip. “In good company.” Guess Troy makes the rounds at the public school too.

Jase and I wade through the crowd, but by the time we reach Troy, Tim’s vanished again. Jase squeezes my hand. “We’ll get him,” he says.

He’s back with his parents. We reach the Masons just in time to hear old Mr. Erlicher, who runs the volunteer league at the Stony Bay Library, say, “And here’s our shining star,” kissing Nan. He turns to Tim, who’s thrown himself into a slouch in the seat next to Nan. “And your mother tells me you’re having a bit of trouble finding your feet, young man.”

“That’s me,” Tim tells him without looking up, “the guy with lost feet.”

Mr. Erlicher prods him on the shoulder. “I was a late bloomer myself, you know. Heh-heh-heh. Look at me now.”

He means well, but since the biggest achievement we know of his is being nearly impossible to escape from once he starts talking, Tim looks anything but consoled. His eyes search the throng of people, lock on me and Jase, and skip away as though that’s no help at all.

“Hey,” Jase says neutrally. “It’s hot. Let’s get out of here.”

Daniel has found his way to Nan, looming behind her as she accepts more congratulations. Nan’s beaming so much, the sun pales.

“C’mon, Tim,” Jase repeats. “I’ve got the Bug over by the store. Let’s hit the beach.”

Tim looks back and forth between us, then into the crowd again. Finally, he shrugs and slogs after us, hands stuffed in the pockets of his tux. When we get to the Bug, he insists on crawling into the back, even though the length of his legs makes this ludicrous.

“I’m cool,” he says curtly, waving away my repeated offers of the front seat. “Sit next to lover boy. It’s a crime to keep you guys apart anyway, and I’ve got enough of those on my conscience. I’ll just sit back here and perform a few of the more acrobatic positions in the Kama Sutra. By myself. Sadly.”

The sun’s so hot and high that you’d expect everyone in town to lemming to the beach, but it’s still deserted when Jase, Tim, and I get there.

“Whew,” Jase says. “I’m swimming in my shorts.” He pulls his shirt off and tosses it through the window of the Bug, bending to pull off his sneakers.

I’m about to say I’m going to walk home for my suit when I see Tim fall back into the sand, tuxedo and all, and I’m not going anywhere. Did he buy anything from Troy? Even if he did, when would he have had time to smoke it or take it or whatever?

Jase straightens. “Wanna race?” he calls to Tim.

Tim moves his forearm away from his eyes.

“Hell, yeah. Race. ’Cause you’re an athlete in peak training condition and I’m an out-of-shape f**kup. Let’s definitely race. On the beach. With me in a tux.” He holds up a finger. “No. Second thought, let’s not. I have too many unfair advantages. Wouldn’t want to make you look bad in front of Samantha here.”