Cass is lying down on his stomach next to Em, tan muscled back alongside small, pale, bony one. I can’t see Emory’s expression. I have to grip on to the armrest of the beach chair to stop myself from going to the water, pulling Emory out, saying this was a bad idea. Mom’s words echo, that he’s my responsibility, that he can’t care for himself, that it will always be my job. I start to rise, but Mrs. E. presses down on my shoulder lightly. “No, dear heart. Give him a little time. I have faith.

You must too.”

I sit back. “So, how did Henry ever learn to swim?”

“Well, one day the captain took him to the end of the dock and dropped him in.”

I’m completely horrified. “What did you do?”

“I wasn’t there. I heard about it later. You must understand that some people were much tougher with children in those days. I would never have allowed it, but this sort of thing happened.”

Cass has rolled over on his side in the water, propping himself on an elbow. He ducks his head sideways, completely under, then pops it back up, says something I can’t hear to Emory. I hear the husky sound of Emory laughing, but he still doesn’t lower his head.

“So what happened? Did he sink? Did someone dive in and save him?”

“No, he doggy-paddled his way to the pier. He was too ter-rified not to. But he didn’t speak to his father for two weeks.”

Can’t say that I blame him. The captain sounds like a jerk Slowly, slowly, Em ducks his head. I catch my breath, as if I could hold it for him. His hand reaches out, out, out and then his head splashes up at the same time his hand does, trium-phantly holding the marble.

“Way to go, Superboy. You saved the planet!” Cass calls, and Em’s grin stretches nearly from ear to ear.

“He’s not your young man?” Mrs. E. leans over to ask, her lavender perfume scenting the salty air.

“No. Not mine.” Cass is talking to Em, folding his fingers around the marble, pointing out to the end of the pier. Emory nods, seriously.

“Then I may ask him to be mine.”

“Gwen, wait up!” Cass calls as I’m pulling out of the parking lot at the beach, Mrs. E. and Emory equally worn out and drowsy.

He’s got his backpack slung over his shoulder and his hair is still dripping wet, scattering droplets onto his shirt. “I thought maybe I’d come by tonight.”

Grandpa informed me this morning that he was the bingo host tonight, so no way. If things were awkward with my family, they would be even worse with Grandpa’s friends raising and lowering their eyebrows and nudging one another over the fact that Ben Cruz’s granddaughter is finally being seen with um joven. Even if she’s just helping him with English.

“Not a good night for tutoring.” I look down at his feet, rather than at his face. Man, he even has nice feet. Big, neatly clipped toenails, high arch. I’m checking out his feet? Jesus. He edges the sandy gravel of the parking lot with his toe.

“Yeah, well, not tutoring,” Cass says. “I thought . . .

maybe . . . I’d just come by.”

I don’t look over at Mrs. Ellington. Nor do I have to. Her I told you so is loud and clear.

“Like for another sail?” I squint dubiously at the sky, where thunderhead clouds are moving in.

“Or . . . a walk . . . or whatever?” Cass slides his hand to the back of his neck, pinching the muscles there, shakes his hair out of his eyes. “Maybe kayaking?”

I could point to the gathering clouds in their deepening shades of gray, or mention that the wind seems to be picking up. I could remember the poised, distant boy who climbed into the Porsche and say “no way.” Instead I say, “Around six?”

Chapter Twenty-eight

“Hi, Mrs. Castle!”

I’m changing in my room (for only the second time— progress!) when I hear Cass’s deep voice. Followed by Mom’s uncertain one.

“Oh. Cassidy. Another tutoring session? Gwen’s just shower-ing. Come in! Do you want a snack? We have . . . leftover fish.

I could heat it up. I’m sure Gwen will be out in just a minute.

Here, come in, have a seat. How are your hands?”

I grimace. Obviously I come by my babbling genetically.

“Or are you here for Emory? How’d you say your hands were, honey?”

The smile in Cass’s voice reaches through my closed door like sun slanting through a window. “They’re fine. Better. No snack. Thanks. I’m not here for Emory. Or tutoring. I want to take Gwen out.”

“Our Gwen?”

Shutting my eyes, I lean back against the door. Nice, Mom.

“Oh! Well. She’s . . . in the . . . I’ll just call her. Guinevere!”

She shouts the last as though we live in a mansion and I’m hundreds of rooms away instead of about six yards.

I emerge from the bedroom, mascara on. My hair is wet from the shower, dripping a damp circle on the back of my shirt. But he looks at me like . . . well, like none of that matters, and then, of course, it kinda doesn’t.

“You don’t want the fish?” Mom asks. “Because I could wrap it up. It wouldn’t be a big deal at all. Must be hard to be living on your own without a home-cooked meal. I mean, you’re a growing boy and I know all about teenage boys and their appetites.”

She did not just say that. Note to self: Strangle Mom later.

“What?” Cass says, his eyes never leaving me. “Sorry, Mrs.

Castle. I’m, uh, distracted. Today was long. Ready, Gwen?”

Flustered and flushed, Mom says, “You sure you don’t want some cod?”

“No cod, Mom,” I say tightly.

“I’m sure it’s delicious, Mrs. Castle,” says the king of good manners.

Finally, fortunately silent, Mom watches us leave.



“Sorry about that—she gets—um . . . well . . . I mean, she’s just not used to me going on a date. Not that that’s what this is. I mean . . . Should I go back and get my copy of Tess? We’ve only done it once. Tutoring, I mean.” I feel my face go hot.

“How are your hands?”

He’s laughing again. “Gwen. Forget my hands. Forget Tess.

Let’s just . . . go to the beach and . . . figure it out from there.”

All these questions crowd into my mind. Figure what out?