It all just keeps getting better and better.
I start to say something, though I’m not sure what it could possibly be, and in comes the missing piece in the whole situ-ation, Grandpa Ben, carrying a large plastic bag in which there is an enormous dead fish, judging by the size of the tail fins sticking stiffly out the top. He’s got another bag full of kale greens and root vegetables and is grinning from ear to ear, prominent front teeth accounted for.
“Look what Marco caught—right off the pier at Sandy Claw.
He got three even bigger than this monster.” His voice drops.
“Above the legal limit, but who’s counting? Can you believe it?
We eat well tonight!” He stops, noticing Cass. “Ah, the young yard boy. Como vai, meu filho?” His delighted smile spreads even farther across his face as he looks back and forth between me and Cass. “Você tem uma namorada? ”
Cass said he didn’t know Portuguese. Please God, let that be true.
My grandfather did not just ask him if he had a girlfriend. If Cass got that, I’m going to go over and knock myself out with one of Nic’s weights. The fifty-pound one should do nicely.
But his blue eyes are simply questioning, searching me for translation.
“He wants to know how you are, and if you like, um, fish.”
“I do,” Cass tells him, “thank you. And I’m fine.”
Emory’s now definitely asleep. Drooling on Cass’s last clean shirt.
“You will stay to dinner!” Grandpa Ben orders, one finger extended, a Portuguese tyrant. “Você vai jantar conosco!” He pulls a sprig of lavender out of the vegetable bag, tucks it into the vase beneath Vovó’s picture. Blows it a kiss. Then marches majestically to the kitchen counter, calling, “Yes? Yes?” over his shoulder.
“I’d love to,” Cass calls after him. “I’m starving!”
This time there is no mistaking the laughter in his eyes, or the way his glance lowers quickly to my lips, then returns, innocently, to meet my eyes.
I give up, bury my face in my hands.
“I’m having a great time,” Cass says, very softly, so quietly perhaps my big-eared mother and nosy cousin can’t hear. “All good.”
Is it? All I know is that I can’t seem to stop—this—or slow it down. Or remember exactly why that’s what I want.
Here’s what happens before dinner. Nic finally gives it up and goes to shower, shouldering past Cass’s chair, unnecessarily close, waist wrapped in a towel, muscles bulging. Implica-tion: Mine are bigger than yours, minor-league swimmer boy, and I can mess you up if necessary. Cass does not look intimidated.
Mom asks Cass to carry Emory to the couch. Em wakes up halfway, perhaps because Cass has him awkwardly slung over his back, head hanging. He starts to melt down until Cass agrees to read his current favorite book, which involves a “dear wee little fairy who lived under a petunia leaf.” Seven times, until Mom takes pity on either Cass or me and shuffles Emory off to take a bubble bath.
Grandpa Ben, in some sort of Old World display of machismo, reincarnating himself as a knife salesman (did he really ever do that? I haven’t heard one single story about it up till now), decides he needs to whack the head off the fish with one blow, and chop up all the vegetables with some sort of enormous butcher knife. Cass and I try to slog through more Tess but keep getting interrupted by loud thwacks and Portuguese curses from the kitchen counter.
Nic comes back in and he and Cass have another manly conversation in which they both use monosyllables and say basically nothing.
As the fish is cooking, Grandpa Ben comes over to the table and sits down across from us, grinning broadly once again. I shut my eyes, waiting for him to interrogate Cass about his suitability as a husband, but instead, he gives a startled, con-cerned exclamation.
“Coitadinho! Olhe para os seus dedos! Olhe a sua mão!” And I open my eyes to find him pulling the note-taking pencil out of Cass’s fingers, calling for my mother. “Look at this, Lucia!”
Mom folds her hand on her mouth. “Oh my.”
“What is it?” I ask, a little frantically. Cass’s ears turn red, the flush rapidly spreading across his cheekbones.
“Your poor hands, honey. How long have they looked like this?”
“It’s nothing,” he says in a muffled voice, trying to pull his arm back from Ben. “They were much worse before.”
“What are you cleaning these with?” Grandpa demands.
Cass has curled both hands into fists and buried them under the table.
“Uh. Hydrogen peroxide. Please. It’s nothing.”
Grandpa Ben smacks himself theatrically on the forehead.
“No no no! That seals in the infection, na infecção. That’s how you get the poisoning of the blood.”
“What’s going on here?” I ask, grabbing for Cass’s right hand, expecting to see it oozing blood from every pore. I didn’t notice anything odd about them during the swimming lesson. Or on the boat.
“Nothing,” he mutters. “No big deal. Blisters, Gwen. I’m not used to mowing more than one lawn a week.”
I turn his hand over, gently pry open his fingers and suck in a breath. His palm is a mass of blisters, new and old, popped and unpopped, some of them blood blisters. It hurts to look at it.
Grandpa Ben barks a few Portuguese phrases at Mom.
“Don’t worry about it,” Cass continues,urgently. “I just pop ’em and wait for them to seal over. It’s not a big deal. The other hand isn’t nearly as bad.”
“No!” Grandpa Ben booms as Mom returns from the kitchen with a bowl full of steaming soapy water. “That is what you do not do. You let them pop on their own, heal under the gloves. Otherwise, you get the infecção. Are you wearing the gloves?”
Cass flinches, either because Ben is insistently lowering his hands into the hot water or because he feels incredibly self-conscious about all this attention. Or both. “Uh. No.”
“Is your father raising an idiot?” thunders Grandpa Ben.
“Do you have to scrub so hard?” I ask.
“Do you want your boy to get sick with the high fever?”
Grandpa Ben doesn’t stop scrubbing away.