He glares at Vivien, who has taken Nic’s hand and is absently kissing his palm. “You, young lady—pay attention. This will be up to you when all’s said and done.” Viv drops Nic’s hand and stands at attention, mock-saluting her stepdad. She throws me a quick glance, flipping her braid and nodding down at her left hand, where her middle finger is discreetly extended. Viv gets along with Al, but oh, how she hates his lectures.
“You”—Al points to Nic—“keep the water glasses stocked and the ashtrays empty. Dominic—keep the wineglasses full.
Two-thirds. Not completely. Don’t trade places.” He glares at Nic and Dom, who is Pam’s older brother. “You’re twenty-two, Dominic; you’re underage, Nic. We don’t need any legal hassles.”
He turns back to Vivien, Pam, and me. “Keep those apps coming. We want them to fill up on the passed hors d’oeuvres before we bring out the lobster. Got it?”
Al jerks his chin in satisfaction. “Go get ’em, team.”
He always adds this at the end, as though he’s suddenly morphed into Coach Reilly.
I’ve helped cater for Almeida’s for years and in all that time, I’ve never seen anybody I knew well at any of their events.
Stony Bay is a small town, but the people I know don’t have events catered. Unless you count takeout from Castle’s.
Tonight my luck runs out.
I’ve finished passing out the garlic toast with Boursin and sundried tomatoes—only one lone straggler left—and am going back for another trayful, looking around for Vivien so I can complain about the man who just spent ten minutes star-95
ing down my shirt while demolishing the tray, when, for the second time today, I bump right into someone. “Shoot, oops,”
the guy says, at the exact moment I say, “Sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was—”
Then I stop dead. Because it’s Alex Robinson, tall, dark, and elegant as he was last summer. Despite how things ended, I get goose bumps. But Alex . . . he’s looking at me with absolutely no acknowledgment on his face, like I’m some random side dish he didn’t order and is wondering how to send back. Is it possible he doesn’t recognize me? How many half-Portuguese girls did he hook up with last summer?
“Oh. Uh. Hi.” Alex wipes at the slosh of ice water I’ve spilled on his blue-and-white striped seersucker jacket. “It’s, uh, Gwen, right?”
That’s a bit much. I debate saying “No, Suzanne.” Instead, I widen my eyes. “Do we know each other?”
Alex blinks at me, a preppie owl. “Er . . .”
I school my face to look patient and baffled.
His eyes dart around, finally settling back on me. He clears his throat. “Look, I know it’s Gwen. Your . . . your mother was cleaning our house today. I thought maybe you’d come along with her.”
I open my eyes still wider. “Really? You missed me? Aw, that’s so sweet! I would have come, honest, but I had to stay home with Alex, Jr. He can walk now, and he’s just getting into every thing, the little rascal!” I channel Mom for a look of weary maternal pride.
He pales. “Now . . . wait . . . I—”
I’m enjoying this, because I am a mean and spiteful person.
“Were you like that too, Alex? What a chip off the old block our little cutie is.” I let one hand drift to my stomach and smile, Madonna-like.
Alex blinks, then shakes his head. “Ha-ha. I’d forgotten your sense of humor. If—er— that had happened, it would have just, uh, been born.” His eyes flick to my cleavage. Two guesses what he does remember. “How, uh, have you been, really?”
I balance the tray on my hip, brush away a strand of hair the light breeze has blown against my lips. “Fine. You?”
“Terrific,” he says. “Great. A good year at Choate. Headed to Princeton in the fall. My dad went there, so that’s . . . all . . .
good.” His gaze once again drops to my chest, as though it exerts some sort of magnetic pull.
“Hmm” is the only thing I can think to say.
After Alex ended things last fall, when I imagined seeing him again, I always looked fantastic and he groveled at my feet. I was never wearing my ill-fitting Almeida’s Arrangements T-shirt—complete with mermaid extending a plate of stuffed quahogs—sweating, and with my unruly hair escaping its ponytail. I did not imagine how hard it would be to think of anything to say to him. Maybe I should have remembered how little actual talking we did.
“So.” Alex’s gaze roams down again, then off toward the raw bar. “I just, ah, thought I’d go try the—um—shrimp.”
“Sure,” I respond. “Why not? You’ve already sampled all I’ve got to offer.” This is too much, I know, but as usual, once I start talking, I can’t stop myself. The kiss-off text he sent me still makes me pissed, even nearly a year later.
“Now, look,” Alex says, “I—I—” His eyes dart around the tent again. “I have to . . . I think I hear someone calling me.”
He wheels away from me, walks off—practically sprints.
“That was enlightening,” says a voice in my ear.
I turn and stare into laughing ocean-blue eyes. “Wouldn’t it have been more efficient to castrate him?” Cass continues, filching the last piece of Boursin toast.
“I considered it.” I pick up the butter knife on my tray and wag it at him. “But I didn’t think this was up to the job.”
“Sounds like Alex wasn’t either,” Cass says. “Maybe some-body beat you to the castrating.” Then he reddens, like he just realized we’re talking about Alex’s penis, which I have clearly gotten to know.
When he blushes like that—now it’s spreading from his ears all over his cheekbones—I remember the Cass of that summer on the island. His hair is so many shades of blond now— gold and amber and yellow and dark blond at the roots—but the season he spent on Seashell, he was a towhead with fair, unfreckled skin. It was one of those crazy-weather summers, sheets of rain for days on end, high winds. Instead of the usual activities run by the island “camp counselor” that Seashell used to hire—kayak lessons, bike races, scavenger hunts—they had kids’ movies in the Club House every Saturday night to keep everyone under fifteen busy and distracted. The first time I met Cass, he opened the door for me as we were walking in. Then he turned bright pink.