“But that’s nowhere near Stony Bay.” Reaching out to pat him on the back, I inadvertently touch Jase’s hand, as he’s doing the same. I snatch mine away.

“So you’re completely safe, buddy.”

George’s cries descend into hiccups, then depart altogether under the influence of a lime Popsicle.

“I’m so, so sorry,” I whisper to Jase, declining the remaining Popsicle in the box, orange. Does anyone ever take the orange ones?

“How could you know?” he whispers back. “And how could I know you were an astrophysicist?”

“I went through a big stargazing phase.” My face heats, thinking of all the nights I sat on the roof, watching the stars…and the Garretts.

He raises an eyebrow at me, as though unclear why this would be embarrassing. The worst thing about being a blonde is that your entire body blushes—ears, throat, everything. Impossible to overlook.

There’s another wail from upstairs.

“That’ll be Patsy.” Jase starts for the stairs. “Wait here.”

“I’d better get home,” I say, although there’s really no reason to do that.

“No. Stay. I’ll just be a sec.”

I’m left with George. He sucks on his Popsicle meditatively for a few minutes, then asks, “Did you know that in space it’s very, very cold? And there’s no oxygen? And if an astronaut fell out of a shuttle without his suit he’d die right away?”

I’m a fast learner. “But that would never happen. Because astronauts are really, really careful.”

George gives me a smile, the same dazzling sweet smile as his big brother, although, at this point, with green teeth. “I might marry you,” he allows. “Do you want a big family?”

I start to cough and feel a hand pat my back.

“George, it’s usually better to discuss this kind of thing with your pants on.” Jase drops boxer shorts at George’s feet, then sets Patsy on the ground next to him.

She’s wearing a pink sunsuit and has one of those little ponytails that make one sprout of hair stick straight up on top, all chubby arms and bowed legs. She’s, what, one now?

“Dat?” she demands, pointing to me a bit belligerently.

“Dat is Samantha,” Jase says. “Apparently soon to be your sister-in-law.” He cocks an eyebrow. “You and George move fast.”

“We talked astronauts,” I explain, just as the door opens and in comes Mrs. Garrett, staggering under the weight of about fifty grocery bags.

“Gotcha.” He winks, then turns to his mother. “Hey, Mom.”

“Hi, honey. How were they?” She’s completely focused on her older son and doesn’t seem to notice me.

“Reasonable,” Jase tells her. “We need to change George’s sheets, though.” He takes a few of the plastic bags, setting them down on the floor by the fridge.

She narrows her eyes at him. They’re green like Jase’s. She’s pretty, for a mom, with this open, friendly face, crinkles at the corners of her eyes as though she smiles a lot, the family olive skin, curly brown hair. “What naptime story did you read him?”

“Mom. Curious George. I edited it too. There was a little hot-air balloon incident I thought might be problematic.” Then he turns to me. “Oh, sorry. Samantha, this is my mom. Mom, Samantha Reed. From next door.”

She gives me a big smile. “I didn’t even see you standing there. How I overlooked such a pretty girl, I don’t know. I do like the shimmery lip gloss.”

“Mom.” Jase sounds a little embarrassed.

She turns back to him. “This is just the first wave. Can you get the other bags?”

While Jase brings in a seemingly endless series of groceries, Mrs. Garrett chats away to me as though we’ve always known each other. It’s so weird sitting there in the kitchen with this woman I’ve seen from a distance for ten years. Like finding yourself in an elevator with a celebrity. I repress the urge to say “I’m a huge fan.”

I help her put away the groceries, which she manages to do while breast-feeding. My mother would die. I try to pretend I’m used to viewing this kind of thing all the time.

An hour at the Garretts’ and I’ve already seen one of them half-naked, and quite a lot of Mrs. Garrett’s breast. All I need now is for Jase to take off his shirt.

Fortunately for my equilibrium, he doesn’t, although he does announce, after carrying in all the bags, that he needs a shower, beckons me to follow, and marches upstairs.

I do follow. This is the crazy part. I don’t even know him. I don’t know what kind of person he is at all. Though I figure that if his normal-looking mother lets him take a girl up to his room, he’s not going to be a mad ra**st. Still, what would Mom think now?

Walking into Jase’s room is like walking into…well, I’m not sure…A forest? A bird sanctuary? One of those tropical habitats they have at zoos? It’s filled with plants, really tall ones and hanging ones and succulents and cacti. There are three parakeets in a cage and a huge, hostile-looking cockatoo in another. Everywhere I look, there are other creatures. A tortoise in an enclosure beside the bureau. A bunch of gerbils in another cage. A terrarium with some sort of lizardy-looking thing. A ferret in a little hammock in another cage. A gray-and-black furry indistinguishable rodent-like beast. And finally, on Jase’s neatly made bed, an enormous white cat so fat it looks like a balloon with tiny furry appendages.

“Mazda.” Jase beckons me to sit in a chair by the bed. When I do, Mazda jumps into my lap and commences shedding madly, trying to nurse on my shorts, and making low rumbling sounds.


“Understatement. Weaned too early,” Jase says. “I’m going to take that shower. Make yourself at home.”

Right. In his room. No problem.

I did on occasion visit Michael’s room, but usually in the dark, where he recited gloomy poetry he’d memorized. And it took a lot longer than two conversations to get me there. I briefly dated this guy Charley Tyler last fall too, until we realized that my liking his dimples and him liking my blond hair, or, let’s face it, my boobs, wasn’t enough basis for a relationship. He never got me into his room. Maybe Jase Garrett is some sort of snake charmer. That would explain the animals. I look around again. Oh God, there is a snake. One of those orange, white, and black scary-looking ones that I know are harmless but completely freak me out anyway.