“Of course not,” I say swiftly, not even bothering to argue with the “your boy.”

“Does it hurt a lot?”

“Only my pride. ’S fine.” Cass’s voice is noticeably more cheerful than it was a moment ago.

Grandpa Ben finally stops his triage and barks another order at Mom, who returns a minute later with a clean towel and gently dabs at Cass’s hands.

“We’ll wrap them up for now,” she says. “Just until they dry out. Then leave them uncovered overnight with some antibi-otic cream. In the morning, wash them with soap, let them air dry, tape ’em up. Wear work gloves, the canvas kind.”

“He doesn’t have any work gloves,” Ben growls. “Idiot. In the morning I will go to the Garrett’s Hardware and get him a pair of decent ones.”

After all this drama, dinner is anticlimactic. There’s a lot of clinking of spoons and requests to pass things. I resist the urge to cut up Cass’s food for him, as his bandaged hands make him closely resemble a mummy or a terrible burn victim.

“Walk him back to the Field House, you! He won’t be able to turn the key in the lock,” Grandpa Ben orders.

He’s suggesting I go to Cass’s apartment alone now? What happened to the knife salesman?

“It’s true, honey. Those hands must be so sore. I wonder how you’ve been able to do anything at all, Cassidy. You must be made of tough stuff.”

Cass shrugs, clearly embarrassed.

Tough stuff, Mom? Really?

All her vigilance and caution have apparently faded away in the light of Cass’s hands. Mom loves a victim. Even a self-in-flicted one.

Or maybe it’s his charm, not his hands. Because that can make anyone’s caution fade away.

Certainly mine.

It’s a cloudy, moonless night, hard to see on the unlit High Road. I stumble and Cass’s palm catches me immediately under the elbow.


“Don’t do that!” I say. “Your hands are hurting.” I yank my elbow away.

“Blisters, not shrapnel. It doesn’t feel any worse than it has for a while. Really. It’s not—”

“If you say it’s not a big deal again I will hit you.”

Cass starts to laugh, then laughs harder, until he has to stop on the darkened road. I can vaguely make out the flash of his eyes and his teeth, but not much else. “You send more mixed messages than any girl on the freaking planet,” he says when he finally catches his breath. “You need to come with a god-damn YouTube instructional video.”

“I do not. I’m very clear.”

More laughter. Now he’s practically wheezing. It’s hard to listen to someone laughing so hard without starting to smile yourself. “I’ve never given you mixed messages. The messages just changed. That’s all.”

“And changed again, and again, and again.”

“I’m not like that.” My voice thickens. Am I really some kind of confusing tease like the ditzy heiresses in Grandpa Ben’s movies? The ones you want to smack sense into? I’m not.


“Watch out, the lawn mower’s right there,” he says, haul-ing me expertly around it with a little arm swing, like a dance move. Then he’s opening the door. No key.

“You didn’t lock it.”

“Course not. What are they going to steal? I don’t see Old Mrs. Partridge sneaking in to grab my gym shorts and a can of tuna.”

“But the whole reason I’m walking you home is so you don’t have to fumble with the key!”

“I wasn’t the one who came up with that excuse,” he reminds me, “but I was damned if I wasn’t going to go with it.” He reaches in to flick on the switch and the light slants out into the night, casting him in shadow, glinting off his hair, blinding my eyes.

“G’night, Gwen.”

As I hit the bottom of the stairs, he calls, “The whole reason?”

Chapter Twenty-five

Dad’s rapping at the screen door with his knuckles. “C’mon, Gwen. You too, Nico. You don’t get a choice this time. I need ya.”

Nic unfolds himself from the couch, dropping his Men’s Health fitness magazine with a decided plunk, looks at me, shrugs.

Both of us have done this for years. All the years since he left. Dad shows up, tells us he needs help, and we trail along, without knowing quite what we’ll end up doing—scraping barnacles off the bottom of his boat, picking up supplies for Castle’s at Walmart because the Sysco delivery is late . . . playing mini golf at Stony Bay Smacks and Snacks.

But we haven’t had a mystery trip once this summer, and I wonder now if it’s because of the standoff between Nic and Dad.

We slide into the front cab of Dad’s truck—me in the middle, Nic, huge feet propped on the glove compartment, slouched down. Dad frowns as the engine sputters for a second before kicking in. He swerves impatiently around a bunch of summer kids gathered in a cluster by the Seashell gates, then peels down the road.

“Gonna give us a clue, destination-wise?” Nic asks after a while.

“Clamming,” Dad says. “Stuffed quahogs are the special this week, and you know they taste better when we dig ’em up than defrost ’em. Esquidero’s is running a quahog week too, bastards, and I’m damned if they’re going to screw me out of my special.”

“Nothing else?” Nic’s voice has an edge to it now.

“I need a reason to see you guys?” Dad asks, barely pausing at a stop sign. “Neither of you are working at Castle’s this summer. You skip out on dinner, Nico. Every time, lately.”

Nic begins drumming his thumb against his knee. Shifts the station on the radio from some angry talk show guy ranting to mellow rock.

Dad shifts it back.

I can’t help feeling like there’s more to this than clams. Am I here to be a buffer? An ally?

“What’s up with you and the Almeida girl these days?” Dad asks Nic abruptly as we pull off to the side of the road by the causeway. The clamming is better here, the water always shal-lower than at either of the island beaches.

Nic’s head jerks in surprise. Dad is always hands-off in the relationship-discussion area. That’s Mom’s turf. “What do you mean?”

“What I said. You two still—”

“Yeah,” Nic interrupts. “Why?”