“Try me.”

His voice lowers. “You know how I put that lock on the door of my room? Well, Dad noticed it. Apparently. So today, I’m stocking the lawn section and he comes up and asks why it’s there.”

“Uh-oh.” I catch the attention of a kid sneaking into the hot tub (there’s a strict no-one-under-sixteen policy) and shake my head sternly. He slinks away. Must be my impressive uniform.

“So I say I need privacy sometimes and sometimes you and I are hanging out and we don’t want to be interrupted ten million times.”

“Good answer.”

“Right. I think this is going to be the end of it. But then he tells me he needs me in the back room to have a ‘talk.’”

“Uh-oh again.”

Jase starts to laugh. “I follow him back and he sits me down and asks if I’m being responsible. Um. With you.”

Moving back into the shade of the bushes, I turn even further away from the possible gaze of Mr. Lennox. “Oh God.”

“I say yeah, we’ve got it handled, it’s fine. But, seriously? I can’t believe he’s asking me this. I mean, Samantha, Jesus. My parents? Hard not to know the facts of life and all in this house. So I tell him that we’re moving slowly and—”

“You told him that?” God, Jase! How am I ever going to look Mr. Garrett in the eye again? Help.

“He’s my dad, Samantha. Yeah. Not that I didn’t want to exit the conversation right away, but still…”

“So what happened then?”

“Well, I reminded him they’d covered that really thoroughly in school, not to mention at home, and we weren’t irresponsible people.”

I close my eyes, trying to imagine having this conversation with my mother. Inconceivable. No pun intended.

“So then…he goes on about”—Jase’s voice drops even lower—“um…being considerate and um…mutual pleasure.”

“Oh my God! I would’ve died. What did you say?” I ask, wanting to know even while I’m completely distracted by the thought. Mutual pleasure, huh? What do I know about giving that? What if Shoplifting Lindy had tricks up her sleeve I know nothing about? It’s not like I can ask Mom. “State senator suffers heart attack during conversation with daughter.”

“I said ‘Yes sir’ a lot. And he went on and on and all I could think was that any minute Tim was gonna come in and hear my dad saying things like, ‘Your mom and I find that…blah blah blah.’”

I can’t stop laughing. “He didn’t. He did not mention your mother.”

“I know!” Jase is laughing too. “I mean…you know how close I am to my parents, but…Jesus.”

“So, what do you think?” Jase asks, picking up two cans of paint from the floor and setting them on the counter. He pops one lid open, then the other, dipping in the flat wooden stirrer, swirling the paint around. “For the Mustang? We’ve got your plain racing green.” He slides the stick along a piece of newspaper. “Then your slightly sparkly one.” Another slide. “Which would you choose?”

They’re barely different. Still, I scrutinize both sticks carefully. “What was the original paint job on the Mustang?” I ask.

“The plain green. Which kind of seems right. But then—”

My cell phone sings out.

“Hey kid—I need your help.” It’s Tim. “I’m at headquarters and I left my laptop at the store. I wrote this speech, intro thing, for your ma to use tonight. I need you to forward the copy to her e-mail. It’s in the supply room—on Mr. Garrett’s desk.”

I locate the laptop easily. “Okay, what now?”

“Just go on in, I can’t remember what it’s called—there aren’t that many files. Work or something like that.”

“What’s your password?” My fingers hover over the keyboard.

“Alice,” Tim says. “But I will deny that if you tell anyone.”

“In Wonderland, right?”

“Absolutely. Gotta go—that tight-assed Malcolm dude is having a fit about something. Call me back if you can’t find it.”

I enter the password and look for documents. There’s nothing labeled WORK. I scroll through, searching, and finally come upon a folder labeled CRAP. Close enough, knowing Tim. I click on that, and up pops a series of documents. Give that Girl an A: A Study of Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne. A Comparison of Huckleberry Finn and Holden Caulfield. Danger in Dickens. The Four Freedoms.

I click on The Four Freedoms…and there it all is. Nan’s prize-winning Fourth of July speech. Dated last fall.

But she wrote it for American government. This spring.

Daniel took American government last year. I remember him going on and on about John Adams at our lunch table. So Nan must have gotten the syllabus from him. She’s always prepared like that. But still…writing the paper before the class even started? Extreme. Even for Nan.

And why would it be on Tim’s computer? Okay. Nan did borrow his laptop a lot when hers was a mess.

I shift the mouse, edging it to Holden Caulfield and Huckleberry Finn, Nan’s essay to be published in the literary journal. Here it is, the Lazlo-winning essay, word for word.

I know she covered for him. We both have, let’s face it. But this is so much further than I thought she’d go.

I can’t believe it. Tim’s been using Nan’s work.

I continue to stare at the screen, feeling like someone siphoned all the blood out of my head.

“Samantha, I need you! Can you un-Velcro yourself from The Boyfriend for a while?” Nan’s voice crackles over my cell, high and shaking.

“Of course. Where are you?”

“Meet me at Doane’s. I need ice cream.”

Nan’s going for sugar-rush therapy again. Bad sign. Did she go to New York with Daniel? It’s only Saturday. I thought Tim said she’d told her parents he was taking her to some Model UN and they were staying at his very strict uncle’s house.

I don’t even know if Daniel has an uncle who lives in NYC, although if he did, that the uncle would be strict is a safe bet.

The Masons’ house is much closer to town than mine, so I’m not surprised to find her sitting at the counter at Doane’s when I get there. I am surprised to find her already plowing into a banana split.