“All men need to be waited on,” Mrs. Ellington cuts into my thoughts. “Helpless creatures, the lot of them.”
“Nah, we have our uses,” Cass says. All the heat evaporates from his voice when he speaks with her. “Killing spiders, opening stuck jar lids—”
Caught between wanting to punch him and just laughing, I roll my eyes to heaven. I hate the way he flips the charm on— that he knows, damn well, just how effective it is.
“—starting unnecessary wars, that sort of thing.”
She gives her deep belly laugh. “Warming our bed at night.
I do miss that. The captain was like a blast furnace.”
Cass’s eyes widen a little, but he says only, “I can get the iced tea myself. If that’s okay with you, ma’am.”
“Certainly not—Gwen, please get him some tea, and some for the two of us, of course.”
I stomp into the kitchen and throw ice cubes into glasses as if tossing grenades. Which reminds me of Dad rattling pans at Castle’s when he’s pissed off. A thought that makes me even more angry because I seem to be headed steadily down that highway of rage with no exit ramps.
“She said I should come help you slice the lemons.”
Cass is standing in the doorway, one elbow braced against the jamb. Considering how ticked he was only a few minutes ago, he looks entirely too calm and sure of himself.
“Oh? That another useful man-skill? Opening jars, slaying lobsters, slicing lemons. Well, thank God for the Y chromo-some then, because we helpless womenfolk would surely per-ish without you.”
The corner of Cass’s mouth quirks up. “Technically, yeah, you would. That’s connected to the whole bed-warming thing, I believe.”
The last thing I want in my thoughts or my memories or my mind in any way at this moment is any association what-soever with Cass’s bed. Of course, that means it’s right there, like a photograph. His bed, broad, dark wood dolphins carved into the four corners—those old-fashioned dolphins that look less like Flipper and more like gargoyles, riding smiling on the waves that curve to make up the top and the sides of the bed.
The heat of anger seems to be slipping into another feeling altogether. I’m flushing and trying to will that away. I look out the window over the kitchen sink, up at the faint water stain that looks like a beagle above the refrigerator, anywhere but at him. The deep blue eyes that are locked on my face.
His faint smell of warm dirt and grass and salt and his sticky T-shirt.
“Huh?” He blinks.
“Your shirt. Why is it pink? Is that some ‘I’m comfortable with my masculinity’ announcement? Because it’s the sort of thing that could get an island kid beat up.”
“No statement. Unless my statement is that washing a red towel with your white shirts and your boxers and bleach is a dumbass move.” Cass’s eyes drop to my lips, and then take their own tour of Anywhere Else in the Room—down at the floor, out the side window as Marco speeds by, clanking garbage cans in the back of the truck, at the laminated sheet of hurricane prep instructions stuck to the side of the refrigerator.
Then back to my lips.
Now I’m just looking back at him, and the air in the kitchen is still and close. Ninety-five and no breeze. And the humidity has to be high today, because I can feel a trickle of sweat edge down between my shoulder blades down the line of my spine and I wonder if a hurricane might actually be coming, because the air has that kind of flat charged feel and what am I, a meteorologist?
My fingers twitch to reach over and brush the dirt and a lone blade of grass off his forehead. I can practically feel the heat and the dampness of his skin. I can’t read his face or his eyes, but I’m searching them. Cass takes a deep breath, wipes his upper lip with the back of his hand, his gaze steady on me.
“I’m positively parched!” Mrs. Ellington calls. “If I don’t have my tea soon, you shall return to find nothing but my des-iccated bones lying out here.”
“That would certainly piss off Henry Ellington.” I hurry over to the fridge, pulling out a lemon and practically lob it at Cass, who catches it without even looking at it, still studying me. Unreadable but intent.
I’m lying on my bed, staring at the slow beat of the ceiling fan, which makes loud whooshing and clattering sounds but never seems to do anything for the temperature. Mom and I call it “placebo fan.”
My thoughts flick around.
Do I really want this job? Between Henry and the bathing suit and The Sultan?
Don’t think about that. You need this job.
And Cass. That look.
I roll over, trying to find a cool spot in my narrow bed.
Spence. Alex. Swim team tradition.
Mom counting out the money and Grandpa being a little more stooped and Emory . . .
Whatever’s going on between Dad and Nic.
Viv and Nic.
I’m itchy and jangly, so tired of watching the numbers on the clock shift that, no matter how late it is, I can’t just lie there anymore.
“Hungry, Gwen?” Mom asks when I head out to the living room.
She’s curled up on Myrtle, reading a book whose cover features an unnaturally buff man wearing a kilt, an eager expression, and nothing else. “I can heat something up,” she offers.
“Just insomnia,” I say. “Carry on.”
“It is getting to the good part. Lachlan McGregor and his sworn enemy, the McTavish, have just realized Lachlan’s stable boy is a her who’s been binding her breasts . . .” Mom’s already picked up the book again, vanishing into it as I watch.
“And now they’re aaaaall in therapy,” I say. Fabio rouses himself from his dead dog imitation by the wood stove, staggers over to the couch, and attempts to fling himself onto Mom’s stomach. He falls down, looks around with an “I meant to do that” face and then slinks under the couch.
To my surprise, Nic, who I thought was off with Vivien and the plovers, is lying down on the porch, staring at the sky. He’s got one arm folded behind his head, the way he always used to when we would lie out at night, little kids, Fourth of July, watching the fireworks from town bursting over Seashell. Then I notice the cigarette glowing between the folded fingers of his other hand.
I snatch it away—“What the hell, Nic?”—and throw it onto the gravel, where it glows bright as a firefly for a few seconds.