“The far one this time,” Nic answers. He swipes his arm across his forehead, then shakes his head, sending droplets of water flying. He squints and points at the second wall of rocks, blue-black, jagged edged, barely visible above the waves. Cass nods, shortly.

Viv shields her eyes, evidently on shark watch.

“Want me to count off?” I call. “On five, four—” And Nic dives before I say “three.” Cass shoots a what-the-hell look back at me, then he’s in. We watch Nic’s arms flashing. Viv’s shout-ing, “Go Nico, go Nico!” Fabio leaps around, yipping, happy to be part of the action. I feel this impulse to cheer for Cass.

Against my own cousin? Blood may be thicker than chlorine, but hormones seem to scramble the equation.

“Go!” I shout loudly, not quite sure for whom. “Go!” I shout it again, drowning out my thoughts. Drowning out another memory of the summer Cass spent at Seashell, the first year we were all old enough to swim out to the breakwater alone.

Of him, little-boy skinny, standing on the rocks, pumping his fist in triumph, slapping Nic’s back, high-fiving me, and then doing his ear-blushing thing, missing his two front teeth.

Nic is ahead, thanks to his unfair advantage.

Then there’s another splash, a sharp bark from Fabio, and I whirl around. Em’s not there. Em is not there and I didn’t put his life jacket on. For the first time ever, I forgot. I wasn’t holding on to his hand or leg or a fold of his shirt, which I do even when I have put a life jacket on. I’m hurling myself off the pier in an instant, Viv’s screams echoing in my ears.

It’s high tide.

High tide. Emory’s in his Superman pajamas, which are darkish blue, the color of water. I’m swishing my arms around wildly, grabbing for his fingers, his hair, his big toe, anything.

Coming up for a choking breath, then plunging down again, clawing through the cold depths. Then I touch warm skin, his leg, oh thank God, yank him toward me, his head bumping up against my shoulder, hauling us to the surface with an inhale that sounds like a sob. He’s coughing . . . he’s coughing, so he’s breathing, but he immediately starts to cry. I’m towing him toward the steps that lead from the deep water to the pier, gasping into his hair.

Then I feel someone beside me.

“You got him,” Cass says, warm hand around my waist.

“He’s safe. You got him. Breathe. Both of you.” Emory howls louder and I can hear Viv gabbling, “Oh my God oh my God.”

This is my fault. I looked away at the wrong time. I didn’t put a life jacket on him. Cass has his hand on my back now, steering us up the steps.

Viv is waiting with a towel and I wrap Em in it and gather him into my lap. “Em, talk!” I order. “Say something.”

“Hideout!” Emory bursts into even stormier tears. “My Hideout. He wanted to see the water. He drownded.”

Cass turns to me for clarification.

“Stuffed animal,” I say, combing my fingers over Em’s scalp, feeling for bumps. He keeps crying, shoving my hand away.

“What color?” Cass peers into the water. “Brown? Black?



“Perfect.” He dives back in, so cleanly there isn’t even a ripple.

Nic has reached the steps now and hurries up, eyes worried.

“Dude, you cool?”

“Hideout!” wails Emory. Vivien, Nic, and I debate taking him to the ER just to have him checked. Teary-eyed Vivien and I are in favor, Nic tells us we’re overreacting.

“Remember the time you fell off Uncle Mike’s boat when you were, like four? You were fine. Same thing.”

“But it’s Emory,” I say. Em was born so early, at twenty-eight weeks, a fragile two pounds. Then when he was four he had viral meningitis and a fever of 106. Whenever he gets a cold in winter it always, inevitably turns into bronchitis. Pretty much everything that could go wrong does go wrong. I’m clutching him so tightly that he stops sobbing to say, “Ow. Be nice.”

“Here you go, buddy.” Cass has climbed up the ladder from the water to the pier thrusting out a bedraggled, waterlogged stuffed hermit crab.

Em’s tears turn off, his lips part, then wing into a smile. “Saved him. Superman saved Hideout.” He snatches the crab from Cass, hugs it, squeezing out a bucketload of water, fingers its head for bumps, kisses it, then scootches over and puts his hand on Cass’s cheek, petting him the way Mom does to Em himself.

Cass clears his throat, shuffles one foot on the wet wooden slats of the pier. “No problem, man. He might need a little CPR—and a dryer—but he’ll be fine.”

“Thanks, Somers. Quick thinking.” Nic nods at him, chin lifted, arms crossed.

“Not as quick as your footwork on the dive,” Cass says coolly. Nic’s jaw tightens.

“Badly played, man,” Cass continues. “Very un-CGA.”

Nic’s face shades stormy. He looks quickly at Viv, then me, then down at the pier.

“Three-second advantage,” he scoffs at last, like Whatever.

“Yeah. Exactly.” Cass shakes his hair out of his eyes, which seem a slightly more wintery sea blue than usual.

“Jeez, enough with the pissing contest,” I say. “Let’s get Em home.” Nic takes him out of my arms and looks at me, face impassive. I give his back a little nudge toward shore, almost a shove. He nods, a motion so small it’s almost undetectable, walks off. Vivien trails, wringing out Hideout, ocasionally glancing back over her shoulder at us, standing so close we’re each dripping water on each other. She cocks her head at me, then hurries after Nic and Em.

I touch Cass’s arm quickly. “Thank you.”

“No big deal.” Then he turns to me with a straight face.

“But, hey, was that a stuffed hermit crab?”

I laugh, and it feels so good, unknotting the tension that’s been snarled in my stomach for days. “I know—it’s like a bunch of toymakers were in a boardroom somewhere, snapping their fingers, and said, ‘I know! A crustacean line! Just what every kid wants.’ But Em loves him. So really . . . thanks.”

“You did the more important save, Gwen. Keep this up and I might have to forfeit my superhero cape. Or talk to Coach about that Life Guard of the Year award you earned back in March.”

The Polar Bear Plunge.