“His castration would be no loss to anyone, trust me,” I say, and then want to clap my hand over my mouth. Cass may have men-tioned Alex’s equipment, but I had to go rate his performance?

God. This is not a subject that should be raised between us.

“I know that kid.” Cass squints at Alex’s retreating back.

“We were at tennis camp together two years ago. His forehand sucks. Which tells you something right there.”

I burst out laughing, then do clap a hand over my mouth.

“So . . . tutoring,” I say, trying to straighten out my face. “How many classes, exactly, did you screw up?”

Okay, that was a bit rude. I’m feeling off balance. Cass smells like lemons—I think he’s wearing aftershave. I’ve never seen him formally dressed. Now he’s wearing a tailored blue blazer, sky-blue shirt that brings out his eyes, yellow tie.

I may have been brainwashed by Grandpa Ben’s old movies, set in eras when the clothes made the man. I’m so used to Nic’s stinky rumpled wife-beaters, Dad’s aged plaid flannels, Hooper’s dubious pattern combos. Dressed-up Cass is like a creature from another planet. One I want to colonize. Oh, God, please stop.

Al Almeida walks by with a platter of lobsters, steam rising, and I finally get a grip.

I shift my eyes back to Cass. “The shellfish here? Taken care of,” I say, just to say something. “No need to ride to the rescue, Jose.”

“You’re welcome for that, by the way, Maria. I’m sure you meant to thank me this afternoon.”

“Can I remind you that I didn’t ask for your help?”

Cass’s teasing smile fades. “I know. I’m . . . ah, I’m asking for yours, though. That tutoring? It’s . . . it’s important. I know it’s probably the last thing you want . . .”

I shrug.

“I can pay. I mean, you know that. I flaked out this spring— just wasn’t . . . concentrating. So I basically about flunked out of English lit . . . Spence can screw around and still pull in the grades. He said only a moron could flunk ELA.” Cass shuts his mouth abruptly as if he’s said too much.

I could reassure him. I could tell him it’s no problem. Or that he’s not a moron. Instead I say, “Why do you put up with that guy?”

Cass’s jaw sets, a muscle jumping. “He can be a prick, but he’s a good friend to me.” There’s a note of challenge in his voice, a glove he’s throwing down that I am definitely not pick-ing up. When I say nothing, he adds, “Right. So will you . . . ?”

He breaks off, raising his eyebrows.

And now here’s Nic bearing down on us, glaring. “Gwen-ners, Al’s all over Vee because he says you’re slacking off—the whole ‘how are you going to run the show if you can’t keep your staff in line’ deal. You need to get back to work.”

It’s been a given for a long time that Almeida’s would go to Vivien, since her stepdad has no kids of his own. Still, I hadn’t exactly seen myself as “her staff.” I get a chilling image of what it would be like to still be wearing my quahog shirt at sixty, no longer the equal, nowhere close, of my own best friend.

“My fault,” Cass puts in. “I was keeping her, figuring out a summer schedule. For tutoring.”

“Yeah.” Nic’s tone is sub-zero, a direct contrast to the angry heat that, for some reason, is burning off him. “Wouldn’t want you to let that slide and end up off the team. Not when we’re so close to state, right, Somers?” Then he turns to me, letting Cass stew in the cloud of testosterone he’s emitting. “Vee needs you.”

Cass leans back a little, studies Nic’s face. “How about you?

Getting much swim time? Hear you’re working for Seashell Maintenance too. Gonna be able to get your hours in?”

“I’ll manage,” Nic says, still frosty. He’s standing up straighter, as if to emphasize his two-inch height advantage.

“Got the ocean right at hand, twenty-four/seven, after all.”

Cass stares out at the distance, his eyes dreamy, as though he can see the water from here. “I was thinking about that. How we should probably do some training over the summer, espe-cially now that they’re not running the swim camp at SB—get some of the guys out, keep the team vibe going, get ourselves some wind and water challenges.”

In the distance, I can see Al waving his hands in despair, jerking his head toward the denuded raw bar.

“We’d better go,” I say, giving Cass a smile so quick it’s more like a grimace.

“Wait.” He touches my shoulder as I turn to go. “Call me. Or you could come to the Field House—to figure out the timing.

For tutoring, I mean.”

Nic now has me by the other elbow and is hauling me away.

“You are not going to the Field House apartment with that guy,” he hisses, practically shaking me by the arm.

I yank myself free. “What’s with you?” I ask, suddenly wor-ried Nic has been taking steroids or something. “You were the one all hot to have me tutor him!”

“Yeah, well, while you two were in your little football hud-dle over here, I was pouring water at his family’s table, and some lady was asking Mr. Somers about Cass getting the cap-tain spot on the team this year, saying he was a shoo-in.”

Nic’s face is stormy, almost threatening.

“So what? You’ll get it, Nico. Cool down.”

“No, listen,” Nic continues, flexing his fingers. “Look . . . I feel weird telling you this, but . . . I get to the next table and it’s Spence Channing, buddy-buddy with Alex Robinson. Talking about you.

Alex says you were ‘a fun time.’ A fun time? That assclown. Spence just laughs and says you’re a swim team tradition. He’s on my fucking team and he’s disrespecting my cousin. I mean, I’m on the bus, I hear how they talk about girls—all ‘I’d tap that’ and ‘she’s hot, but-her face’—but this is you, Gwen. Who the hell does he think he is? Who the hell does he think you are?”

I swallow. My face heats, freezes, then gets hot again. Spence knows who I am. Better than I’d like.

“Then I have to refill his goddamn water glass, not punch his face in . . .” Nic’s hand curls into a fist and he glares across the room, then looks back at me. “Aw, cuz. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. I wasn’t thinking, too pissed off, I—”