She gives a little shriek. “Don’t do that, Samantha. Don’t walk in when someone’s taking a shower! Haven’t you seen Psycho?”

“I have to talk to you.”

“I’m exfoliating.”

“When you’re done. But soon.”

The shower squeaks off abruptly. “Can you hand me a towel? And my robe?”

I unhook her apricot silk robe from the door, where, I cannot help but notice, a navy blue man’s robe also hangs. She reaches out around the shower door and clutches at the silk.

Once the robe is knotted neatly around her waist and the plush oyster-colored towel wraps her hair like a turban, she sits down at the vanity, reaching for her skin cream.

“I’ve been considering a little Restylane between the eyebrows,” she says. “Not enough to look ‘done,’ just to take away that little crinkle here.” She indicates a nonexistent wrinkle, then pulls her forehead taut with both hands. “I think it would be a smart career move, because lines in your forehead make it seem like you’re fretting. My constituents shouldn’t think I’m concerned about anything—that would undermine their confidence, don’t you think?” She smiles at me, my mother with her convoluted logic and her towel crown.

I have chosen the Road of No Small Talk. “Jase knows.”

She pales beneath her face cream, then her brows snap together. “You didn’t.”

“I did.”

Mom springs up from the upholstered bench so quickly, she knocks it over. “Samantha…why?”

“I had to, Mom.”

She paces across the room, walks back. And for the first time, I do notice the lines across her forehead, the long grooves parenthesizing her mouth. “We had this conversation, agreed that for the good of all, we would put this behind us.”

“That was the conversation you had with Clay, Mom. Not the one with me.”

She stops, eyes shooting sparks. “You gave me your word.”

“I never did. You just didn’t hear what I really said.”

Mom deflates onto the bench, shoulders slumped, then looks up at me, eyes wide and beseeching. “I’ll lose Clay too. If there’s a scandal, when there’s a scandal, and I have to resign—he won’t stick around. Clay Tucker plays for the winning team. That’s who he is.”

How could Mom even want to be with a man she knew that about? If trouble comes, babe, I’m outta here. I’m glad I don’t know my father. Sad, but true. If he and Clay are how my mother thinks men are, I can only pity her.

Tears glisten in her eyes. Knee-jerk, tired guilt kicks in, but doesn’t coil in my stomach the way saying nothing did.

Mom pivots back to the mirror, propping her elbows on the counter and staring at her reflection. “I need time to myself, Samantha.”

I put my hand on the door handle. “Mom?”

“What now?”

“Can you look at me?”

She meets my eyes in the mirror. “Why?”


With a gusty sigh, Mom turns around on the bench. “Yes?”

“Tell me to my face that you think I did the wrong thing. You look at me and say that. If that’s what you really believe.”

Unlike my own eyes, flecked with gold and maybe green too, Mom’s are an undiluted blue. She meets my gaze, holds it for a beat, then looks away.

“I didn’t tell anyone yet,” Jase says when I open the window to him early that evening, the sun hanging low in the sky.

Worn out from talking with Mom, I’m simply glad I don’t have to confess anything to anyone else or deal with anyone’s reactions to anything.

But that selfish thought only lingers for a moment. “Why not?”

“Mom came home and went up to take a nap. She’d stayed all night last night because they had to intubate my dad because of this infection thing. I thought I’d let her sleep. But I did think about what to do next. Seems to me the talking stick is the way to go.”

“The what?”

“The talking stick. It’s this piece of driftwood Joel found and Alice painted when we were really little. Mom had this friend back then—with these insane kids—I mean ‘climbing the curtains and swinging from the rafters’ insane. The friend, Laurie, kinda had no idea how to handle them, so she used to follow the boys around shouting, ‘This is will be a topic next time we use the talking stick.’ I guess they had family meetings and whoever was holding the stick got to talk about something that was ‘affecting the family as a whole.’ Mom and Dad used to sort of laugh about it, but then they noticed whenever we all tried to discuss something as a family, everyone spoke at once and nobody heard anyone else. So we made a talking stick of our own. We still bring it out when there’s some big decision to be made or news to be told.” He laughs, looking down at his feet. “Duff once said in show-and-tell that ‘every time Dad brings out the big stick, Mommy’s having a baby.’ They had to have a teacher conference about that one.”

It feels good to laugh. “Yikes.” I plop down on the bed, pat the space next to me.

Jase doesn’t sit. Instead, he shoves his hands in his pockets, tilting his head back against the wall. “There’s this one thing I was wondering about.”

I feel a shiver of apprehension. There’s a note in his voice I don’t recognize, something that stains the sheer pleasure of having him this close to me again.


He flips up a corner of the rug with the toe of his Converse, then edges it back down “It’s probably nothing. It just occurred to me, thinking about you coming over before. Tim knew what you had to say. You told him. First. Before you told me.”

Is that unfamiliar note jealousy? Or doubt? I can’t tell.

“He basically shook it out of me, wouldn’t let up until I did. He’s my friend.” Staring at Jase’s bowed head, I add, “I’m not in love with him, if that’s what you think.”

He looks at me then. “I think I know that. I do know that. But aren’t you supposed to be most honest with the people you love? Isn’t that the point?”

I come closer, tip my head to scan his clear green eyes.

“Tim’s used to things being screwed up,” I offer, finally.

“Yeah, well, I’m getting pretty used to that too. Why not tell me from the start, Sam?”