Nic shoots me a look, but says nothing. I sink farther down, yawning for extra authenticity. Soon I’ll be skulking around my own island in a wig and a trench coat.
“So the bonfire’s on Sandy Claw tonight,” Nic says. “Bo Sanders. Manny and Pam and a few more. Hoop wants to hit it, but he doesn’t wanna drive home, so Viv’s picking us up.”
“You can drop me off at the house.”
“No way, cuz. You’re coming. The recluse bit is getting old.
You know you love these things.”
And I do. I mean, I always have. Just . . .
“You’re coming,” Nic repeats firmly.
“Yes, sir, Master Chief Petty Officer, sir.” I salute him.
“You mean Admiral, Ensign,” he corrects, elbowing me in the side. “Show some respect for the uniform I don’t have yet.”
I laugh at him.
No one can say Nic is unambitious. Since career night fresh-man year, he’s had One Big Dream. The Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. He’s got pictures of it—their sailing team, their wrestling team, on the wall of the bedroom he shares with Grandpa Ben and Emory, the Coast Guard motto— Who Lives here reveres honor, honors Duty—scrawled over his bed in black Sharpie, he does the workout religiously, obsesses about his grade point average . . . basically a 180 from the laid-back Nic of old, the guy who could never find his home-work binder and was always looking up with a startled “Huh?”
when called on in class. It’s the same raw focus he’s had with Vivien since childhood. One can only hope that that discipline someday extends to picking up and washing his own clothes.
“Seriously, Gwen. If I have to drag you. I can bench nearly my body weight now.” He cracks his knuckles at me threaten-ingly, then shoots me his sidelong, cocky grin.
I elbow him back. “For real? Does Coach know? How long till you can bench him?”
“Only a matter of time,” Nic says smugly.
I burst out laughing. Coach is huge. “You really need to work on your inferiority complex, Nico.”
“Just calling it like it is, cuz.” Nic’s smile broadens. It’s quiet for a second. Then his face sobers. “I want that captain spot so bad I can taste it. It’s gotta go to me, Gwen.”
“Instead of Cass or Spence, who always get what they want?”
A note Nic hits a lot. He was by far the star swimmer before they transferred in last September.
I bump his shoulder with my own. “You leave them both behind every time, Admiral.”
We ditch Hoop’s truck in his pine-needle-covered driveway and reach our house on foot just as Vivien pulls up in her mom’s Toyota Corolla. She beeps at us, waving Nic over. He leans through the window, kisses her nose, then her lips, hands slipping down to gather her closer. I look away, squeeze the dampness out of the fraying hem of my shorts.
Viv. The first serious Nic Cruz Goal I can remember.
We were eleven and twelve. I decoded the scribbly cursive in his i WiLL notebook, this goal journal he kept hidden under his mattress—not a safe spot when your cousin is hunting for Playboy s , wanting to bribe the hell out of you. But the i WiLL
notebook proved more useful than even porn sometimes.
I figured Hoop had dared him. Despite the wedding cere-mony when we were five, I didn’t think of them as a couple. It was thethreeofus. But there it was, spelled out in red pen right in the middle of his other goals : Be next Michael Phelps. Own Porsche. Climb Everest. Find out about Roswell. Make a million dollars. Buy Beineke house for Aunt Luce. Kiss Vivien.
For some reason, that one I didn’t tease him about.
Then a few months later the three of us were sitting on the pier at Abenaki, enjoying the post–Labor Day emptiness of the beach. Nic reached into his pockets, pulled out a bunch of flat rocks.
“Pick me a winner,” he’d said to Vivie. She’d cocked her head at him, a little crinkle between her eyebrows, then made a big show of finding the perfect skipper, handing it to him with a flourish.
“One kiss,” he’d said softly, “for every skip.”
The stone skated over the water five times, and my cousin claimed his reward from my best friend while I sat there still and silent as the pile of rocks, thinking, I guess Hoop didn’t dare him.
“Gwen’s trying to bag out on us, Vee.” Nic’s voice breaks into my thoughts.
Vivie shakes her head firmly. “Miss the first bonfire of the season?” she calls through the open window. “Not an option!”
She reaches over, holds up a supermarket bag, shakes it at me.
“I got the gear for s’mores!”
Nic has already climbed into the front passenger seat. He ducks forward, flipping it so I can climb in the back. “C’mon, cuz.”
I sigh and tell them to hold up while I change my soggy clothes.
When I get inside, Mom’s got the phone to her ear, frowning. She holds a finger to her lips, jerking her head at the couch. Grandpa’s fast asleep, head tipped back, mouth open. Emory is curled like a cashew nut, his head in his lap, snoring softly.
“Yes, I understand. Yuh-huh. Extensive cleaning. Yes. Top to bottom. Of course. By four o’clock tomorrow? Oh, well, that is a Saturday and—uh-huh. Okay.” Mom sighs, rustling the pages of the book on her lap. “Allrighty then.”
When I come back out in a baggy shirt and an even older pair of shorts, Mom’s off the phone and buried in her lat-est bodice buster. She carefully marks her spot with a finger.
“You’re going out?”
I shrug. “Beach with the guys. What was that? Someone already giving you hell?”
Mom sighs again. “It’s those Robinsons.”
I’d already turned toward the door, but stop in my tracks.
“Renting the Tucker house again for the next two weeks.
Some wedding in town—cousins of theirs. Want the house to sparkle. By tomorrow.” She rubs her thumbs over her temples.
“Here for only a few weeks every few summers, and I swear, they’re more trouble than half the regulars put together.”
“Can you pull that off? By tomorrow?”
She shrugs. “No choice, really. I’ll manage.” Mom’s theme song. Her glance drops to her book once again and she smiles at me wickedly. “I’ll think about it later. I’m pretty sure this Navy Seal is about to find out that the terrorist he’s been sent to capture is his ex-wife—and she’s pregnant with his triplets . . .