“What a kind young man,” Mrs. Ellington says. “Handsome too.”

I examine the lobsters bobbling in the water, now vivid red and motionless, and stare at the ticking timer. With ten minutes to go, I pour Mrs. Ellington more tea and start on Grandpa Ben’s sauce. She watches, bright-eyed and interested, murmur-ing occasional comments. “Oh yes, of course. How could I have forgotten the sour cream? Dear Ben Cruz had this down to a science.”

I’ll have to ask Grandpa Ben how it is that Mrs. Ellington knows his secret recipe for lobster salad. Sauce finished, I dump the rosy lobsters into a colander, running cold water over them and hoping it’ll cool me down too. I feel weirdly off balance.

“These will be perfect for lunch tomorrow,” I tell Mrs. E. over my shoulder, trying to sound breezy. “Unless you want them for dinner tonight, in which case I can make a butter sauce. Or hollandaise.”

“Oh no!” she says. “I want Ben’s lovely sauce with chilled lobster. I will make do tonight. In fact.” She cocks her head, then calls out, “Joy! ”

Just as I’m worried she’s lost her mind for real, the door opens and a tired-looking woman in hospital scrubs comes in from the carport. “Yuh-huh, Mrs. El? I’m here.”

“Well hello, Joy! This is Guinevere Castle, who is to keep me out of mischief during the day. Gwen, this is my night nurse.

Joy, will you show her out? I find myself a bit fatigued with all the excitement of the day.”

Joy leads the way through the porch hallway into the carport, hauling her gray hoodie off over her head and hanging it on a hook on the wall. “So you’re the babysitter.”

That word makes me uncomfortable. “I’m here to keep Mrs.

Ellington company during the day, yes.”

Joy grunts. “You’ll be getting the same amount of money I am, without medical training. Makes no sense. That son of hers has more cash than brains, if you ask me.”

I don’t really know what to say to that, so I stay quiet.

“She needs a trained nurse twenty-four/seven, after a fall like that. Could easily have been a broken hip, and at her age that can be the beginning of the end, but the family just won’t accept it. I got no patience with them.”

Maybe you shouldn’t work here then, I think, and then want to scratch the thought out. Here on island, how many of us have a choice, really? Joy opens the latticed screen door to the carport and I walk out, grateful our shifts won’t coincide much.

Outside, I halt, listening. Over the soft roar and shush of the waves, I hear the lawn mower thrumming again, farther down Low Road. Even though it’s the longer way home, I turn uphill in the direction of High Road.

How am I going to get through a whole summer of con-stant Cass? I’ll have to ask Marco and Tony what his schedule is . . . Right. “Tony? Marco? Your yard boy’s a little too hot for me to handle, and now he’s getting on my nerves too, so if you wouldn’t mind ordering him to wear a shirt? Grow some unsightly facial hair, pack on a few pounds, and stay clear of Mrs. E.’s? Thanks a bunch.”

I pick up my pace, and then turn into the small, beaten-down clearing in the Green Woods at the bend in the road. Maple trees arch and curl their branches over me, making the path a tunnel. The air smells earthy and tangy green. These woods have been the same for hundreds of years. When we were little, Nic, Vivie, and I used to play a game where we were the Quinnipiacs, the first people to live on Seashell. We tried to tread soundlessly in the forest, one foot in front of another, not even snapping a twig. Now a turn by a twisted branch, then another by an old stone shaped like a witch’s hat, and I’m out in the open again, by the rushing creek that runs into the ocean, cleared only by a bridge so old that the wood is silver and the nails rusty dark red. I climb to the apex of the bridge, look down at the water, clear enough to see the stones at the bottom but deep enough to be well over my head. I shuck off the T-shirt I’m wearing over my black sports bra, kick off my sneakers, climb to the highest point of the bridge, and jump.

Chapter Six

The water is an icy shock, stripping away any fears or feelings. I blast up toward the surface, emerge, take a deep, gasping breath of air, then plunge back down into the cold depths, push off from the pebbly bottom, flip toward the surface, turn on my back, eyes closed, lazily breathing in the difference between the icy water and the still, summer air.

Rising in me, I know, is what I’ve been trying to avoid. For months. I open my eyes, let the memory lap at the edges of my thoughts, then close them again, and give in.

They call it the Polar Bear Plunge, which doesn’t really make sense because it’s held in the spring—and here in Connecticut, polar bears are pretty damn scarce.

But ocean water in March in Connecticut is the stuff of hypothermia. And the Polar Bear Plunge is Stony Bay High Athletic Department’s big spring fundraiser. There’s always a bonfire, and the cheerleaders and the PTO bring hot cider and yell encouragements as the athletes run into the icy water. Parents and people from town show up—to bet on who stays in the water longest, who will swim out farthest. This year, since Vivien was cheer captain and Nic on the swim team, which I’d been timing for all year, I got up at seven a.m. and went with them to watch.

The morning was blinding bright and extra cold. There’d been one of those freakish heavy coastal snowstorms the week before, and patches of snow still drifted in the tall sea oats. I wanted to stay in Vivien’s warm car with the heat on nuclear, but Nic was in swim trunks and Vivie wearing her skimpy cheer outfit with only Nic’s sweatshirt pulled over it. So I got out and stood by the bonfire in the name of supporting the football team, the field hockey team, the soccer team, the base-ball team, the basketball team, and the swim team.

Plenty of show-offs all around, stripping down and striking muscle or cheesecake poses to hoots and whistles from the well-bundled crowd. Hooper, though small, was speedy and mighty confident for a skinny, pale guy. Ugh, and he was wearing a Speedo. Gross, Hoop.

I clasped my fingers around a foam cup of cider, blowing into it to feel the warm steam on my face, then heard a rustle of movement next to me, felt this prickle of awareness across my skin, and turned. It was Cass. He’d shucked off his parka and shirt and was now unbuttoning the top of his faded jeans, revealing navy swim trunks.

I expected him to be out putting on a show like the others. Even Nic, hardly an exhibitionist, swirled his sweatshirt on a finger with a grin before tossing it to Vivien. But Cass was alone, quietly undressing. Right next to me.