Then he pulled one off, fisted it, let it go. Clench. Unclench.
Silence settled around us like a hot wet blanket. But what was I supposed to say?
“Full moon on the water. Make a wish,” I muttered finally, just to say something. Mom always said that, pointing out the pretty.
Suddenly I so much wanted my mom to put her arms around me and fix everything, the way she could when I was five.
“Full moon on the water. Make a wish.”
He shook his head slightly, shrugged, jaw tight. I swallowed, pulled the hem of my dress down farther over my thighs. Then we were crunching up on the crushed clamshells of my driveway. The Castle Estate, I thought grimly.
He shifted into park, took a deep breath as if he was going to speak . . . I waited.
“Welcome home,” he said finally.
Silence. I wiped one of my eyes, rubbed my finger dry on my dress, leaving a black smudge against the scarlet fabric.
Cass reached over, flipped open the glove compartment, handed me a stack of rough brown napkins from Dunkin’
Donuts. Home away from home for the swim team with their early meets. Of course he would keep them neatly piled in the glove compartment, not shoved in haphazard, the way Nic or I would do in the Bronco. He put his hands back on the wheel, rubbed his thumbs back and forth on it, staring at them as if they were moving independently. “Are you okay? Did any-thing . . . bad happen to you?”
Nothing I didn’t bring on myself, I thought. Then I realized he was asking if I was . . . forced or something. I shook my head.
“There was none of that. Nothing but my usual gift for doing stupid things with the wrong people.” I wiped my eyes, shoved a brown napkin into my coat pocket.
Cass winced. “Point taken. If you’re going to do stupid things, Spence is a great choice. You had to know that.”
“He’s your friend.”
“Well, yeah. Because I don’t have to date him.”
“This was not exactly a date.”
“Yeah, what was this? Another little kick in the heart?”
“What do you care about my heart, Cass?”
He opened his mouth, then shut it again. Folded his arms and stared stonily out the window. Rigid. Faintly judgmental.
Which brought a pull of anger out of my coil of shame. What right did he have, anyway?
“Big deal, anyway, Cass. It was just sex.” I snapped my fingers. “You’re certainly familiar with that concept. Thanks for bringing me home.” I searched around for the car handle and pushed it open, but before I knew it, Cass was standing outside it, reaching out his hand for me.
“What are you doing?”
He looked at me as though I was either crazy or not very bright. “Walking you to the door.”
“You don’t have to do that. I’m . . . really not the kind of girl who gets walked to the door.”
“Jesus Christ, Gwen!” he said, then shook his head and pulled on my hand. “Just let me get you safely in.”
“I can make it from here.”
“I’m walking you to the door,” he told me, leading me up the worn wooden steps. “Not taking the chance that you’re going to go throw yourself off the pier or something. Because, forgive me for noticing, you seem a little impulsive tonight.”
“That’s one word for it.”
“Gwen . . . I . . . Would you . . . I mean . . .” He stopped on our doormat, beside Nic’s sneakers and one discarded rubber fishing boot of Grandpa Ben’s, apparently running out of words. “I’d like to . . .” He shut his eyes, as if in pain.
I waited, but after a second he just said, “Never mind. The hell with it.”
And turned, crunching back across the clamshells to the car.
Did I use Spence? Did he use me? I don’t know. In the end, did it even matter? We’d just been bodies. Arms, legs, faces, breath.
Just sex. No big deal.
Explaining that night was never going to be easy. Not then, to Cass. Not tonight, to Nic. Not ever, to myself.
Cass is apparently fighting with a bush when I pass him the next day on my way home. He’s got hedge clippers and is whacking away, making a big dent in the side of one of Mrs.
Cole’s arborvitaes. It’s completely lopsided now. As I watch, he stops, takes a few steps back, then starts making a dent on the other side. The bush, which used to resemble an O, now looks like the number 8. After a few more unfortunate trims it looks like a B.
I can’t help it. I stop, cup my hands around my mouth, and call, “You should quit while you’re ahead—it’s only getting worse.”
He turns off the hedge clippers, “What?”
I repeat myself, louder, because Phelps, Mrs. Cole’s terrier, is yapping away inside the house, scritching his claws frantically on the screen door. Cass sighs. “I know. I keep thinking I’ll fix it and . . . I don’t want this woman to come out and have a heart attack. She seems a little high-strung. Screamed when I knocked on the door to ask where the outdoor plug was.”
I study him. He seems to have shaken off our weirdness from yesterday, and the whole Henry Ellington . . . thing.
He takes a few steps back again, tilting his head, scrubbing his hand over the hair at the back of his neck. “D’you think she’d notice if I dug this up and replaced it with another bush?
That may be my only hope.”
“Got a spare arborvitae up your sleeve?” At least today he actually has sleeves, as in a shirt, thank God. I open the gate and walk in. “Maybe if you just trimmed down that top part and made the other side a little flatter?”
He revs up the hedge clippers, begins trimming on the wrong side. I wave my hands in a stop motion. Cass flips the off button again. “What now?”
“Not that side! You’re making it worse again. Just hand it to me.”
“No way. This is my job.”
“Yes, and boiling the lobsters was my job. You had no prob-lem barging in there.”
“Christ almighty. Can we move on from the lobsters, Gwen?
You honestly have this much of an issue with accepting help?”
“I’m pretty sure the issue at the moment is you not being able to accept help. Just give me the clippers.”
“Fine,” Cass says. “Enjoy.” He hands the clippers to me, pull-ing his hands back quickly and shoving them in his pockets.