Ben stopped thinking about the blanket. “Tons.”

“Prove it.”

“How?” He tried to ask this nonchalantly, but it seemed to Ben that knowing this one answer would unlock all the others the universe held.

“Tell me a secret.”

“What will that prove?”

“It’ll prove you trust me. Here: I’ll start. My dad wears tighty-whities. It’s, like, totally gross.”

The former wasn’t much of a revelation. The latter was self-evident. If this were the kind of secret that would prove his love, Ben imagined it would be easy. “So does mine?” he tried.

“Eww.” Cayenne seemed pleased with this confession. “What else?”

“Roo and I wear boxers. Rigel and Orion wear boxer briefs.”

“That’s not what I meant. Tell me another secret.”

“It’s your turn,” Ben pointed out.

“My sister wore diapers to bed until, like, last year.”


“Do I have another sister?”

“No but … Poppy never said anything.”

“Why would she?” said Cayenne. “Anyway, Aggie’s sneaky. When she has sleepovers, she makes a big show of walking around naked, and then she puts on pajamas, and then she sneaks out of bed later to get a pull-up in the bathroom.” Ben let that one sink in until she prompted, “Your turn.”

“Um. Once, in Wisconsin, before we moved, my parents almost got shot.”


No. “Really.”

“What happened?”

“Poppy was at a playdate, and the dad pulled a gun so she called my mom, and when my parents showed up, he threatened them.”


“Oh.” Ben found it was difficult suddenly to breathe. “Well. I don’t know. He was just mad I guess.”

“But what did he say? Why was he mad?”

“He … didn’t say anything.” Was the blanket too tight? Could enough air get in? “He wasn’t mad like angry. He was mad like crazy.”

Cayenne propped herself up on her elbow in the sand. She shone her phone on his face. “You’re lying.”

“No, I’m not.”

“You are,” she pronounced. “You have another secret. A good one. I can tell.”

“I don’t,” Ben said. “I swear.”

“If you loved me,” Cayenne lay back down in the sand and pulled Ben’s hand onto her stomach underneath her shirt, “you would tell me.”

“I can’t tell you,” Ben said, “but I do love you.”

“Aha!” said Cayenne. “I knew it.” They made out for a while in the sand under the blanket. Her stomach was warm and yielding and held much promise for what lay above and below it. Then she said, “Tell me.”

“Really, I can’t.” Ben tried to catch his breath. “Doesn’t it show you what a good guy I am that I have something I’m not supposed to tell so I’m not telling?”

“I guess so,” Cayenne admitted, “but then, I don’t really care if you’re a good guy.”

They made out some more, and every time he put his hand slowly, tentatively higher under her shirt, she’d let it go a little farther. She let him touch the edge of her bra and then put her hand on his to stop him there. Then she guided his hand to its clasp before she hit the pause button. Then she let him finger the top of her skirt. That time, she put her hand on his but moved it down instead of up. “There,” she said, and smiled at him and he smiled back and then, hand still over his, then she said, “I promise, whatever it is, I’ll never ever tell anyone ever no matter what cross my heart and hope to die.”

Ben was a smart guy, yes, with an off-the-charts IQ and a double-stacked bookcase, but he was still sixteen. And he’d been patient for a very long time. That and he saw something his parents did not, which was that when something was this significant, this consequential, you didn’t keep it from someone you loved, even if that someone was Cayenne Granderson.

Hedge Enemies

Fall was good for the DN. Penn found it hard to stay inside and write during Seattle’s sunny days because there just were not enough of them. Though Carmelo had yet to find a rundown lake house to rent, Seattle summers were worth sleeping over her daughter’s garage for, so she still came up every year. In contrast to Phoenix, it was pleasantly warm and sunny every day rather than sole-meltingly hot (she’d lost a pair of flip-flops to the asphalt in a grocery-store parking lot one May and taken it as a sign to come north a month earlier), and she could sit in the backyard with a gin and tonic and smoke and read a book until after ten in the evenings and still have light enough to read by. She came to see her daughter, and she came to see her boys, but mostly, she loved to be with Poppy.

Penn wondered whether Carmelo was mentally subbing one Poppy for another, her granddaughter now at ten the age of the Poppy she lost, but he didn’t wonder much—Poppy had always been close with Carmelo, even when she was Claude. In the early Poppy years, there’d been a lot of shopping together and manicure dates and trips to the salon, girly indulgences they’d been desperately missing (Rosie refusing them both), but now Poppy mostly sat out back barefoot and read books with her grandmother or told stories or listened to hers. Still, never mind the addition of two adult hands, there was the subtraction of school, which, combined with the sunshine, made it hard for Penn to get enough done in the summer. Now Carmelo was back in Phoenix, the kids were back at school, the sun was generally wayward, and Penn promised himself this was the year: this was the year he’d finish the DN, get it done, get it good, get it off. It was time. It was past time. It was time.