“Yeah. My brothers still rag on me because I mostly got to grow up here and they were already off to college. Down there”—he pointed down the low hill, grass turning to sea grass, tumbling softly down to the ocean—“there’s a good stretch of beach. Just ours. It’s beautiful. I’d like to show it to you. But not now. We’d both freeze.”

A mansion. No one could call this anything but that. Not a house. An estate. It reminded me a bit of Mark Twain’s house, where we went on a school field trip once. But that was built to look like a riverboat, and this could only be a sailboat. The yard had all these big trees, a wrought-iron bench under a willow, a fountain even. It looked like something from Perfect Life magazine.

A mansion and a private beach.

I did not belong here.

“I’m glad you didn’t drown,” I said, at the exact moment he said, “Thanks for wading in after me.”

“It was nothing,” I added, just as he said, “Gwen—”

We both stopped. His eyes were the darkest, purest blue. The ocean in winter.

“Look . . . My parents are going away tomorrow for a week.

I thought I’d live the high school cliché and have a party. Will you come?” He’d somehow moved closer again, smelling like the best of the coast: salt water, fresh air.

I leaned toward him without meaning to, without a clear thought in my head, and he bent forward and kissed me. It was such a good, sweet kiss—a simple press of the lips at first until I opened, wanting more, and he was ready. No jamming tongues or bumping teeth. Just one smooth delicious glide and then a rhythm that made my insides jangle and had me tilting against him, gasping for breath, then diving back for more. We kissed for a long time—a long, long time—and he let that be it, only brushing his hands into my hair and gently grazing my neck with his thumbs.

“Will you come?” he repeated.

I looked back at his house, that huge house. I’d never heard of Cass having a party. Who would be there? Spence Channing.

The people Cass hung out with at school. Jimmy Pieretti, Trevor Sharpe, Thorpe Minot. The Hill guys—the boys who lived on Hayden Hill, the richest part of Stony Bay. No one I knew well.

A . . . a party.

And Cass.

I swallowed. “What time?”

He reached into the pocket of his parka and pulled out a blue Sharpie. Uncapping it with his teeth, he took my hand, his thumb dancing lightly over the inside of my wrist. He turned my palm closer. “How far, again, is it from your house to your dad’s restaurant?”

“Three miles,” I said faintly, feeling all the hairs on my arm stand on end.

He made an x on the base of my wrist, traced up to the line of my index finger, made another x, and then slid his hand down my palm, making three x’s below my thumb. “An approximation,” he said. Then wrote “Gwen’s” by the first x, “Castle’s” by the next. And “Shore Road” by the three x’s. Then “Eight o’clock Saturday ni—”

“Ha!” my cousin laughs. He grabs my wrist and pulls me under, before hauling me above the water again.

I splutter and wipe my hair out of my face. “Nic! What the hell!”

“Thought I might find you here. What are you doing, crazy?

You were headed straight for Seal Rock. Head-first.”

I have inadvertently gulped in a mouthful of brackish water and am coughing. “I—”

He thumps me hard on the back, dislodging another series of coughs. I dive back under, come up, flicking back my hair, then notice that he’s freckled with large spatters of white paint.

Jackson Pollack Nic.

“What?” he asks as I frown at him.

I twitch my finger from his bespattered face to his speck-led shoulders. He looks down. “Oh. Yeah. We were doing old man Gillespie’s garage ceiling. Then I went to check out the island job. Didn’t have time to clean up.” He scrubs his hand through his mop of sandy hair, much of which is also coated with paint. “Maybe I should have?” he offers. “Is this not a professional look for a job interview?”

I’m treading water, trying not to let myself be dragged away by the rushing creek current.

“How’d that go?”

“Aw . . . you know.” Nic cups his hands in the water, splashes it on his face, slapping his cheeks. “It was what’s-his-face, the island president. In his shorts with the blue embroidered whales and his effing pink shirt. He acted like it was all com-petitive. But I know from Lucia that no one wants that painting and repair job. Too much aggravation. Almost as bad as yard boy. We’ve got it in the bag. Hoop’s pissed.”

“You’ve got a steady job all summer and Hooper’s mad?”

Nic dunks under, bobs up. “He doesn’t want to work for ‘those summer snobs.’ Painting, we could’ve headed around the state, maybe camped out on Block Island or something, whatever—gotten the hell off island, for Chrissake. Hoop’ll come around, though. Anything’s better than working for Uncle Mike.”

Yeah. These past few years Nic has done anything and every-thing to avoid working for Dad. Or, lately, even having dinner with him.

My cousin whacks me on the shoulder and starts doing a fast crawl to the rocky shore. I used to be able to beat Nic every time, but since swim team, and especially since he’s been training for the academy, no contest. He’s nearly drip-dried; shaking the last drops off his shaggy hair, by the time I clamber up next to him and throw myself down in the sand. He tosses himself down next to me.

We lie there for a while, squinting at the evening sun fil-tering through the trees, saying nothing. Finally he stands up, reaches out a white-splotched hand to pull me to my feet. He glances around the shore.

I know what he’s searching for. A skipping stone for Vivie.

I study the sand for a thin, flat rock, but Nic’s eyes are better trained, longer attuned. He finds one—“Here’s a keeper”— slips it into the pocket of his soggy shorts, jerks his head toward the sandy roadside. “Hoop let me take the truck home.

Party on the beach tonight. We’re going to start this summer off with a bang.”

Great, both Cass and a party on the first real day of summer.

Talk about Kryptonite.

Chapter Seven

After we stop at the bridge for my clothes, we head down High Road and pass the Field House, where the mowers are stored— and where the yard boy’s summer apartment is, right over the garage. But for sure Cass wouldn’t be staying there—he’d be going home to that sailing ship of a house. Just in case, I scrunch lower in my seat, the peeling vinyl scraping my thighs.