“Oh, stop.” She whacks me on the shoulder. “No one even remembers that. Plus, all you did was make out with Jim. And it was pretty much all him. He was a loser who had to amp it up to sound like more. The thing is . . . It’s just . . . I’ve only had Nic. No basis for comparison. I just wonder . . . a little . . .

sometimes. I mean. Hardly ever. But, you know.”

My jaw practically drops. I never thought Vivien even saw anybody but Nic. I don’t think he sees any girl but her. I’ve never even heard him call anyone else pretty. Except me, which doesn’t count.

“About any guy in particular?” I ask carefully. Then I think Oh God, what if it’s Cass? I mean, how could it not be? Look at him. But that would be beyond awkward.

“No!” she says hastily, flushing. “Of course not! Why would you think that?”

“Because it’s hard to wonder about some abstract guy.

Unless he’s like a celebrity or something.”

“Well, yeah, that’s sort of a requirement if you have a pulse,”

Vivien says. “But no one I know. At all. Forget I mentioned it . . . And, shit, don’t tell Nic.” Her voice is suddenly urgent.

“Promise me you won’t.” She reaches out and grabs my sleeve.

“Swear, Gwen. Never ever let Nic know.”

“I don’t think he’d be jealous, Viv. He knows your heart’s his. Always has been. Always will be.”

“That’s right,” she says firmly. “Completely. Always.” But there’s a little waver in her voice and she doesn’t look me in the eye.

Chapter Twenty

This could be bad. Very bad.

Dad’s house is on the water. I mean . . . on the water. It’s on the marshy, open-to-the-ocean side of Seashell, near Nic’s and my jumping bridge. You walk from the road through a patch of woods and then out across some double planks to his house, which is on wooden pilings, so it’s six or seven feet over the marsh to get to the tiny porch and his little ramshackle red house with buoys hanging outside, and fishing rods always stacked by the door.

“Hurricane bait,” Dad calls it, but kind of with love. He got it cheap from this island guy who was moving to Florida, just at the right time, when he and Mom were splitting up, the year after Em was born.

Tonight, when I take Em for our weekly dinner with Dad, I put his life jacket on, just to cross that tiny three-slab-long stretch of sun-dappled water. Even Emory thinks this is crazy.

He keeps shoving at the straps, saying “Gwennie, off.”

I’m pretty sure, to him, the whole falling off the dock thing was much worse for Hideout.

I can smell pancakes as we come up the path. Dad always does the breakfast for dinner thing. He gets sick of actual lunch and dinner, after churning them out at Castle’s all day and night. I’m carrying Emory, who may not have a fear of the water but seems to hate setting foot on the ground now.

“How’s the old lady?” Dad calls as we come in. “And what the hell is your brother doing in that thing?”

There it is.

I miserably explain about the fall. Mom and Grandpa didn’t blame me aloud . . . but this is much worse than not fixing a broken door. Dad’s not exactly one to hold back on the criticism.

Kneeling down, Dad unbuckles the life jacket, then hands Emory a plate of scrambled eggs with ketchup frosting.

“Hideout fell in. Superman save him,” Em summarizes cheerfully, settling down at the card table where we eat.

“Yeah, fine.” Dad clears his throat. I left out the Cass part of the story, so he no doubt thinks that’s just another one of Em’s dreams. “Guinevere.” He stands, looks at me. “You screwed up, but you didn’t lose your head. Still, the kid doesn’t need a life jacket on dry land. You’ll get him all worried.”

This time I do tell him about Cass and the lessons.

“Somers . . .” Dad says doubtfully, rubbing his hand against his stubbled chin. “Like Aidan Somers? The boat-building guy?”

“His son.” I turn to the cabinet, pull out more plates, haul out the syrup, start moving it all to the table.

“Rich kid,” Dad says flatly. “Don’t know about that. Besides, why isn’t your cousin doing this, Mr. Big Swimmer?”

“Nico already tried to teach him, Dad, and wanted to try again.3 Grandpa said no, he said it was easier to learn from someone who isn’t family.”

Dad grunts. “That’s hogwash. I taught Nic to change a tire, pitch a tent, drive. He learned all that just fine.”

“Well,” I venture. “You’re not technically related to Nic. I mean—he’s mom’s nephew, but—”

“Technically?” Dad says, dumping more eggs onto a plate and tossing the pan into the sink with a muffled sizzle. “I took that kid under my roof when he was a month old, changed his diapers, took him to the ER when he broke his arm, paid for his whole life. That makes me family, the way I see it.”

He hands me the big serving plate of pancakes, eggs shoved to the side, mutters “Technically!” again, and sits down at the table, immediately picking up his fork.

“What’s your interest in all this?” he asks, scraping his chair in with a loud squawk.

“Wha—?” I’m blushing again, picturing Cass asleep on his stomach, the smooth, taut lines of the muscles in his back, the look on his face when I blurted that question, his eyes flashing wide and ears going bright pink. Little boy Cass that summer, cheeks puffed, blowing a dandelion wish for me when I told him my secret about Vovó.

I stack pancakes on Em’s plate, adding butter and syrup.

Cutting them up neatly and precisely, tasting a forkful to make sure it’s not too hot. Avoiding Dad’s eyes.

“How well do you know this guy?” he finally asks against my silence, whacking the bottom of the ketchup bottle to dis-lodge the last dregs.

Better than I should. Not at all. I knew him the summer we were seven. We go to school together.

“He’s on the swim team with Nic.”

Dad’s impatient. “How well do you know him?” he repeats.

There’s a warm, silty breeze blowing in from over the salt marsh, but I have goose bumps. Does Dad know? What does Dad know? We’re best off when I’m his pal, like when I was a kid. He stopped hugging me the year I turned twelve and sud-denly looked much less like a kid than I still was. Every once in a while, he’ll look at some outfit of mine and say something like, “Pull your shirt up . . . there,” gesturing at my chest without looking at me. That time with Alex on the beach . . .