“You being smart?” Smaht. Dad’s accent is always stronger when he’s angry or uncomfortable.
“About what, Uncle Mike?”
Dad glowers at him. Nic glares back for a second. I want to knock their hard heads together.
Nic relents. “Yeah. Always. Both of us. Why?”
“My job to ask.”
“Since when?” Nic seems to know how belligerent that sounds. He clears his throat, and adds, “We’re good. You don’t need to worry about any grandnieces and -nephews any time soon.”
Dad grunts. He and Nic have identical flushes of color on the backs of their necks. “Good, then.”
“Can we do the group hug now?” I ask. “This is just so sweet. I know I feel a lot closer to both of you since you’ve poured your hearts out this way.”
Nic jabs me in the rib with an elbow, but he’s smiling slightly. Dad looks like he’s considering grinning, then decides against it. “Get the rakes.” He jerks his head toward the truck bed.
Rakes resting over our shoulders, buckets in hands, we wade out into the water.
Nic bumps his rake against my calf. “What was that?” he asks, voice low. “No glove, no love, from Uncle Mike?”
“He’s never said a word to me about it before, not ever, not once. Not when I actually could have used it,” Nic continues.
“Maybe he thinks it’s time he did.”
But if Dad picked this as a family bonding moment, his technique needs work.
We fan out in the water, working separately, not talking.
Anyone who knows anything about clamming knows it’s sandy, gritty, backbreaking work. In cold weather, your fingers nearly freeze as you scrabble in the grainy sand searching for the quahog shells. In summer, the back of your neck burns since you’re stooped over for hours. It’s not getting out in the open ocean, like fishing. It’s not even standing on a pier casting out and the excitement of a tug on your line.
Still, I’ve always loved clamming. When I was little, I liked the muddy sand fights with Nic, the competitions Grandpa Ben would judge: who got the most clams, the biggest, the smallest, the weirdest shaped. I loved the meal Grandpa Ben would make afterwards, clam chowder with fresh summer corn and tomatoes on the side, or spaghetti with clam sauce rich with garlic and parsley. I still love those, but there’s just something about mucking around in the water, concentrating on what you can find and feel with your fingers, thinking about things without letting them weigh you down.
Today it isn’t working, though.
The whole reason?
My fingers sift automatically. I slap a horsefly off my arm.
Pulling up one more big quahog, nearly the size of my out-spread hand, I toss it into the wire basket, then take a deep breath and put my silty palm to my heart, inadvertently leaving a print on my white tank top.
The basket’s nearly full.
I squelch my way to shore, wiping sweat off my forehead and no doubt leaving more sand. My hair clings to the back of my neck, sticky with sand and salty water.
“What’s up with the kid?” Dad says from behind me. I hadn’t heard him come closer. “Aidan Somers’s boy?”
“He’s teaching Em to swim. His name is Cass, Dad. He’s not just his father’s son.” I see a tiny pocket open in the sand, the smallest blowhole, plunge my hand in, close my hand around the hard shell.
“That one’s too puny. Uniform size, pal, you know that.” He squints at me. “I knew him. Aidan Somers. Did. Years ago. The boy looks like him.”
“I guess,” I say cautiously. Where is this going?
“Worked at the shipyard at Somers Sails. Summer I was eighteen.”
I straighten up, wipe my hand on my shorts. I never heard Dad ever had a job outside of Castle’s, where his own father started. And ended.
Nic comes up next to me, cocking his head at Dad, then shooting me a quick, astonished look.
“Best summer of my life,” Dad adds. “Those boats. God.”
He tips his head back, closes his eyes, face softening. “My job was crewing, getting them to whoever paid the big bucks to own ’em.”
“I didn’t know you could even sail,” Nic breaks in, at the same moment I say, “Why don’t you have a sailboat of your own, Dad?”
He leans back. “The kinda boats I could afford . . . Mess-ing around in an O’Day—compared to the ones at Somers’s?
No contest. Sailed a Sparkman and Stevens down to Charleston with Aidan Somers. That boat . . .” He has a faraway look in his eye—Dad, who is not a dreamer. “Felt as though it never touched the water at all. Closest I’ve ever gotten to . . . heaven.
All came together. I was good, good at it too. Somers—Aidan— offered me a job.”
Nic and I have both stopped rooting around in the sand and are standing there, listening like it’s a fairy tale. Mom and Grandpa Ben are the storytellers. Not Dad. Ever focused. Not looking back.
“And—?” Nic asks.
“Your bucket’s only half full, Nic,” Dad says. “Keep at it, both of you. And? And nothing. Pop died, Luce turned up preg-nant, Gulia couldn’t deal with her kid. I had no business taking off sailing. End of story.”
I exhale, not realizing I’d been holding my breath.
Dad and Nic take Dad’s boat out, motoring across Stony Bay Harbor to wash the quahogs and put them on ice. Consola-tion prize, Dad sends me home with a bucketful of clams. I’m wearing a pair of Nic’s gym shorts because I didn’t want to get my own too disgusting (and let’s face it, his always are). The way my feet drag more and more slowly up the hill is not just because the clams seem to be reproducing in the basket, mak-ing it heavier, but I swear, my feet are increasing in density too.
By the time I get to the top to take the turn by the Field House, there’s a river of perspiration pouring down my back.
Cass’s tomato-soup-red BMW is parked outside the Field House, no sign of him.
But then there’s a low rumble and a squeal of brakes and the silver Porsche pulls in, Spence at the wheel, the rest of the cockpit full of the Hill crew—Trevor Sharpe and Jimmy Pieretti and Thorpe Minot. They’re all windblown and laughing. Spence is wearing a tangerine-colored shirt. He tips his elbow on the horn. “C’mon, Somers! Get your working-class ass out here!”