And everything that had felt warm and good and happy crumbled.
I walked away. What else could I do?
Behind me, I heard Cass say, “Shut up,” but I just kept walking.
Walking. Which is what I should do now, walk away from con-fusing teenage boys. Let the sea breeze blow them—him— right out of my head. I hoist myself off my abused twin bed.
I hadn’t bothered to change out of my bikini after Em’s swim lesson. So on goes Mom’s shirt and a pair of Nic’s workout shorts—from the clean folded pile on Myrtle, not the redolent heap moldering in the corner of the room.
Grandpa’s wearing his plaid robe. Which means he’s staying in. Which means I can go out without Em. At last, a free night.
I’ll go find Vivie. I peer out the window at her driveway. Both her mom’s car and the Almeida van are there. She’s got to be home.
Whistling for Fabio, I jingle the leash. The old guy barely raises his head from the floor long enough to give me a “you’ve got to be kidding, I’m on my deathbed here” look, then col-lapses back down.
I shake the leash again. Then he notices the leftover linguica on Emory’s plate and—alleluia—it’s a miracle. He’s still chew-ing in that sideways way dogs have when I get to the porch.
Skid to a halt.
Cass is coming up the steps, hands shoved in the pockets of his tan hoodie, blond hair blowing.
He stops dead when he sees me.
I’m frozen, the door half open.
Cass is here at my door.
What is he doing here at my door?
Did I conjure up him out of that memory?
“Just come for a sail with me,” he says abruptly. Then adds, “Uh. Please.”
Behind me, I hear Grandpa Ben warning Peter about the crocodile: “Olhe para o crocodilo, menino.”
Emory’s piping voice: “Crocodilo menino!”
Maybe I’ve forgotten English too. “Come for a what? In what?”
He points at the water visible over the tree tops, where you can see the tiniest of white triangles and a few broad horizon-tally striped spinnakers gleaming in the warm slanted light.
The sun is lowering, but there’s about an hour before it sets for good.
“One of those little things out there. But mine’s at the dock,”
he says, moving his index finger back and forth between us.
“You. Me.” Fabio licks Cass’s barefoot toes. He’s bending down to nudge Fab behind the ears. “Not you, bud. No offense.”
“Because his bladder can’t be trusted?” I finally find my voice and a coherent thought.
“Because I only have two life jackets.”
Luckily for both of us, Cass does not turn out to be a Boat Bully—what Nic, Viv, and I call those guys who get on a boat of any size and suddenly start barking orders, throwing around nautical terms, and acting all Captain Bligh.
He doesn’t say much of anything except “It’s chilly out there.
Got a sweatshirt?” until we get onto the dock, and even then, it’s mostly technical. He tells me to bend on the jib, which I do after some brief direction.
Am I going to be stuck out on the water with the silent stranger or the charming Cass? And why am I even here, when before he could barely speak to me?
Over on one side of the beach, there’s a grill smoldering, and Dom and Pam and a few of the other island kids are gear-ing up for a cookout. I could go over, sit down, fit right in.
But the island gang doesn’t seem to notice us. Cass ignores them as well. His nose is sunburned and I have this urge to put my index finger on the peeling bridge. When he ducks his head, busy with the mainsail, I can see that the top of his hair is bleached white blond, almost as fair as when he was eight.
He works quickly, efficiently, still without saying anything.
I catch him looking up at me through his lashes a few times, though, smiling just a little, and the silence begins to seem more tranquil than tense. I’m compelled to break it anyway.
“You bring it out from town?” Did he have time to do that?
Did he shower? I lean discreetly closer to try to tell. Should I have showered? I passed my time wallowing in self-pity rather than body wash. He looks very clean. But then, Cass always looks that way.
He shakes his head, tosses me a life jacket. Fastens his own.
Squints his eyes against the sun as he looks out at the water.
“You have a mooring? Here?” Moorings on Seashell are strictly controlled, and there have been incidences of actual fistfights over who gets which spot. Or any spot.
“Dad,” Cass offers, in a neutral tone. “Ready?”
I’ve been around boats most of my life. But mostly motor-boats, which have sounds and smells and movements all their own. You always get a whiff of gasoline when you back up to head out, see a slick of it rainbowing on the surface of the water, then the surge forward and the bang, bang, bang up and down of the bow if it’s choppy. When I raise the jib and Cass the mainsail, it’s so noisy, lots of clanging and the sail flapping around. Then the wind catches and they billow out, the hull kicks up and forward, spray flying in our faces, and we head toward the open water. I’m unprepared for how silent, how serene, it is then. There’s almost no sound at all except the scavenger seagulls dive-bombing and the thrum of a prop-plane high, high up, heading out to the distant islands.
Cass asks if I know about ducking my head under the boom when the boat comes about, and I do. He shows me by exam-ple how to hook my shoes and lean back.
The water is thick with boats of all kinds, huge showy Chris-Crafts and Sailfishes skimming along the water. Far away there’s some sort of ferry headed somewhere and what looks like a tanker far out on the horizon.
“Do we have a destination?” I ask.
“Here,” Cass says, as though we aren’t whizzing through the water, as though we were just in one spot. “Unless you’d like to go somewhere else. Another direction.”
The wind is whipping now, blowing my hair into my eyes, across my lips. I pull it back, twist and knot it at the back of my neck. Cass looks at me, riveted, as though I’ve performed some rabbit out of the hat trick. But all he says is, “Ready about.” One turn, and we’re flying along. It’s like being one of Nic’s stones skimming over the surface of the ocean without ever landing hard enough to sink. Out here, the water is a deep bottle green, foamed by whitecaps, and I want to reach out and touch it, dive in, even. This is better than jumping . . . more exhilarating, more breath-stealing, more of a release, just . . . more.