Then he studies my face. “Actually, you do seem to be enjoy-ing yourself. Too much. You are planning to use those on the hedge, right? Not on me?”
“Hmmm. That hadn’t occurred to me.” I turn the hedge clippers on and look him over speculatively. He bends down, wrenches the plug out of the wall.
“Hey! I was trying to help.”
“I didn’t like the look on your face. It made me worry for the existence of my future children. I haven’t forgotten that butter knife that was the only thing standing between you and Alex Robinson singing soprano.”
“I just never thought I’d see you be inept at anything. Haven’t you done this before?”
“Hey, I’m not inept. I’m just not . . . ept yet. And since you’re so curious, no, mowing our lawn is my only landscap-ing experience.”
“Did Marco and Tony know this when they hired you? Why did they hire you?”
“I don’t know. My dad talked to them first, and when I came in they just asked if I minded hard work and being outdoors most of the day. I figured I’d be mowing. Period. Maybe some weeding. I didn’t think I’d be planting and trimming and tying bushes to fences and I sure as hell didn’t think I’d be raking the beach.”
I’ve plugged in the hedge clippers again and now I turn them on and start in on the top of the hedge. “You can always quit,” I shout over the whir.
“I don’t quit. Ever,” he shouts back. “I think you’re making it worse.”
I lop off a few more branches, then run the clippers down, making the bumpy side as flat as the other. Then I stand back.
It definitely looks better. I move over to the matching arborvitae on the other side of the steps and start working on that to make it look the same.
“Now you’re just showing off,” Cass calls. “I can do the rest.”
“No way, Jose. Clearly you can’t be trusted.”
This sentence drops between us like a brick shattering on the pavement.
Again I get a flash of his white-knight rescue from Spence’s party. Granted, a cranky white knight, but still . . .
Jaw tight, Cass walks over to the Seashell truck, pulls a plastic bin out of the back, and starts scooping the severed branches into it. I buzz the sides of the other tree flat.
“There you are, garota bonita!” Grandpa Ben calls. He’s trudg-ing along up the road with his mesh bag full of squirming blue crabs, holding Emory’s hand and dragging the unenthusias-tic Fabio by his leash. Em is in his bathing suit, clutching a sandy-looking Hideout and looking sleepy. “I bring you your brother. Lucia is working tonight and I have the bingo.”
“Superman! Hello, Superman! It Superman,” Emory tells Grandpa, his face lighting up.
“Hey there, Superboy,” Cass says easily. My brother runs over and immediately throws his arms around Cass’s leg. And kisses him. On the knee. Cass seems to freeze for an instant, then pats Em’s bony little back.
“Hey buddy. Hello, Mr. Cruz.”
“Superman,” Emory repeats. Clearly, for him, all that needs saying. He gives Cass his shiniest smile and plunks down in the grass, nuzzling Hideout against his neck.
“I will not lie, querida. He’s been cranky. Está com pouco de bug today. We got ice cream, but no. No help.” Grandpa Ben pulls his watch out of his pants pocket. It’s not a pocket watch, but he keeps it there, out of habit, afraid, from his fishing days, that it would snag on something. “I need to go now. I get there late, Paco stacks the deck.”
“Where’s Nic?” I’ve babysat for the last four nights that Mom has worked late. So, Nic’s turn.
“The swimming,” Grandpa Ben says. “Be good for your sis-ter, coelo.”
Emory ignores him, focused on Cass coiling up the exten-sion cord.
“Which beach?” Cass calls. “I’m pretty much done here.”
“Huh.” Cass finishes wrapping and loops the cord between his shoulder and his elbow, which shows off his biceps nicely.
I think he’s even fitter than before—already. Bring on the Yard Boy Workout. “Maybe I’ll get on down there and give him a run for his money. What do you think, Gwen? Want to come check out my form?”
He flashes the dimples at me.
Oh dear Lord.
I wrinkle my nose, toss my hair back. “I couldn’t care less about your form.”
“Right,” Cass says. “I can tell.”
I examine his face sharply, but his tone is completely inno-cent.
Maybe it’s the total contrast between the terse, tense Cass on that March night, when I had no way to read him, no compass at all, and the sunny, smiling one now. Maybe I’m just light-headed from the heat . . . But I give him the tiniest of smiles.
And get a full-on grin in return.
I tell myself it’s okay to feed Em fast when we get home, use those nasty frozen dinners Mom relies on, Emory doesn’t mind, and Grandpa and I despise, dumping crinkled French fries out on a baking pan, letting Em consider ketchup a veg-etable. I assure my conscience I’m not hurrying through the shower, or Emory through his bath, for any reason at all.
If there were an Olympics for kidding yourself, I’d take home the gold.
Then Em doesn’t want to go to the beach. He’s sleepy, wants to be lazy, cuddle. He settles himself on Myrtle, Fabio collapsed and drooling heavily on his thigh. He points at the screen. “Clicker.”
“Fresh air,” I say firmly.
“Clicker. Pooh Bear. Dora.”
“Jingle shells. Boat shells. Hermit crabs,” I counter.
Emory’s lower lip juts out. “Seen today already,” he says.
“Superman?” I coax, finally.
I don’t have much hope that Nic or Cass will still be there when I get to the beach. Em wouldn’t walk, so I had to plunk him, Hideout, and Fabio into our old Radio Flyer wagon and drag it down the hillside. Not really drag, more like run ahead of it, because it picks up speed as we descend, and Fabio remembers being a puppy and hops out, nipping at my heels and yelping all the way down.
My cousin and Cass are apparently facing off at the end of the pier, ready to dive again. Viv is sitting on one of the wooden pilings, counting down on Nic’s watch as Em and Fabio and I walk out.
“To the breakwater again?” Cass asks, breathing hard, hands on his bent knees.