“Sorry about this. These’re on the house too,” he says. Then, stern, to me: “Get back where I can keep an eye on you, kid.

Emory’s the one who is supposed to need a babysitter.”

God, Dad. I feel my face burning. But Cass is looking down at the ground, not at me, nudging at the pebbles with the toe of his sneaker, all neutral face. Dad’s bristly and defensive, Bill faintly amused. Only Emory is completely at ease. He sidles up to Cass, traces the shield design once again, sweeps his finger in an S. “Superman,” he says.

“I wish,” Cass mutters.

Chapter Ten

The first thing I see when I get home, sticky with spilled soda and French fry grease, are Nic’s big bare feet sticking over the edge of Myrtle. Vivien is crouched over them in dark purple bikini bottoms and a low-cut black tank.

Good God. It’s four in the afternoon and they’re in our liv-ing room. On the couch under the wedding picture of my no-doubt-virginal grandmother. Not exactly the time or place for . . . having a foot fetish? Please tell me my cousin has clothes on. I clear my throat.

Vivie glances up, smiles, completely unembarrassed, then bends back over Nic’s toes.

And blows on them.

“Uh, guys?!” I say. “Maybe you could . . . take it somewhere else. Officially dying here.”

Nic sits up—thank God, dressed. “I’m doing penance,” he explains. “Making up for my sins.”

My glance shoots to the crucifix, my grandmother’s sweet, serious face.

“Uh . . .” I haven’t moved from the doorway. Viv sits back on her heels, squints at Nic’s foot, and then picks up a bottle of—“Oh my God, you guys, really!” I practically shout—clear nail polish and begins applying it to Nic’s other foot.

Nic looks at my face and bursts out laughing. “You look so incredibly freaked out,” he manages, then starts laughing again.

“Nico, hold still!” Vivie slaps at his leg.

“Gwen, Gwen, listen. Viv and I were schlepping a bunch of fish chowder over to the Senior Lunch at St. Anselm’s, and Speed Demon here is doing her thing—”

“I was only going fifty.”

“In a thirty-mile-an-hour zone, Vee.” He nudges his toes lightly into her stomach, turns back to me, more serious now but still smiling. “She’s wigging out because we’re late and she doesn’t want Al to get all over her—but I can hear the chowder sloshing and if my little felon here racks up any more tickets she’ll be answering to the law, never mind Al.”

Viv wrinkles her nose, sticks her tongue out at him. “You totally exaggerate how bad my driving is.”

“Uh, no, I don’t. You’re a maniac. And I like having you in one piece. So she’s barreling along and then we get to this stoplight and the light turns green and the truck in front of us isn’t moving. So Vee leans out the window and says, ‘What are you waiting for, asshole?’ and flips the driver off.”

“God, Viv,” I interrupt. “Don’t do that. We’ve told you like a billion times. You never know when you might run into some psychopath.”

“Exactly. ’Cause this guy gets out of the car and he’s like eight feet tall, three hundred pounds, tattoos, leather vest, chains, and he is effing furious. He comes over to the window and gets in Viv’s face and says, ‘Gonna repeat that?’”

“And I, like, burst into tears,” Viv says. “I’m picturing him killing Nic and then God knows what he’d do to me. My life is flashing before my eyes.”

“So I know I need to talk this guy down because I sure as hell can’t take him down.”

“But it’s the way you did it, Nic. He gets all chummy and buddy-buddy with this jerk.” Viv’s voice deepens. “‘So sorry, man. My honey here is a little touchy today. Normally she’s sweet as pie but she gets kinda high-strung at that time of the month, you know what I’m saying?’ And then this Neanderthal is clapping Nico on the back all-man-to-man and saying yeah, he has a wife and four daughters and he’s thinking of getting an RV that he can park in the driveway because their cycles are all the same and on and on and on—”

I’m laughing now, and so is Nic again. “Well, he did save you,” I point out.

“Yeah, but then they spent ten minutes telling women-are-cray-zee stories, which, I’ll have you know, Nic completely made up. He’s telling the guy that I once threw a pizza at him because he got the wrong toppings. That I threw his ball cap in a wood chipper because I was jealous of the time he was spending watching Sox games.”

“But again, I did save you,” Nic says, reaching for her hand.

“By making me sound like an out-of-control crazy hormonal bitch,” Viv says. “So having to get a pedicure is his penance for being Captain Macho. And so is wearing flip-flops next week so Hooper and Marco and Tony can admire his pretty tootsies.”

“They do look dreamy, Nico,” I say. “And anyway, if she were really mad at you, she would’ve gone for pink.”

Vivie winks at me—and then pulls a bottle of Day-Glo fuch-sia polish out of her purse. “That was just the undercoat,” she says.

“Aw.” Nic ruffles her hair. “You’re so cute when you’re all riled up, honeybun.”

“Watch it, or you’ll get a manicure too.”

He leans over and kisses her . . . and kisses her . . . and kisses her. On and on and on. I might as well be in the next county.

Still, it’s good to know that this exists—true love—in my world. And not just in Mom’s books.

Al Almeida is telling us what he expects of his catering crew tonight in a hushed, urgent tone, shifting his eyes to each of us in turn. The group of us is in a respectful circle outside the turreted canvas tent set up for the rehearsal dinner on Hayden Hill, the highest point of Stony Bay, windblown, exclusive, over-looking the water but from far, far away. We soberly observe him, appropriately dressed in our black-and-white outfits, peasants at the gates of the palace. Al’s intimidating, actually, with beetle-y brows and military-short hair. “All right—listen up.” He checks his watch. One of his watches. He always wears one on each wrist.

“Showtime is in ten minutes. Seven o’clock. We’ve got a ton of littlenecks. Sorta skimpy on the oysters and the jumbo shrimp, but we’ve got extra-large for backup. You”—he points at me, Vivien, Melissa Rodriguez, and Pam D’Ofrio—“keep that raw bar stocked and ready. Empty spaces look cheap, and they don’t want cheap.” He pauses, lowers his voice further, and adds, “The bride’s family’s loaded, groom’s is running on fumes and Mayflower ancestors. Something to prove there.”