Why am I doing this again? Or is it different now? But for once, for once since that no-thinking night at Cass’s party, I just push it all away. I focus on the pull of Cass’s hand. Let myself be pulled. And say, “Okay.”

As we head down the hill, the clouds that were gathering seem to have hesitated in the sky, moving no farther in. The breeze is sharp and fresh, only faintly salty. High tide.

Cass says, “I finished it. Last night. Tess. Still hate it. I mean . . .

what was the point of all that? Everything was hopeless from the start. Everyone was trapped.”

As his “tutor,” I should argue and say that Tess’s choices, and Angel’s inability to forgive them, doomed them, that it wasn’t really a foregone conclusion, things could have gone another way. But the reason I hate the book is just that—that from the start, everyone is hopeless, even the family horse, who you just know is going to drop dead at the worst possible moment.

“You know what I hated most about that book?” I offer. “The line that made me want to pitch it off the pier?”

“I can think of a lot,” Cass says.

“Tess moaning that ‘my life looks as if it had been wasted for want of chances.’ I mean, I know she’s unlucky, but she feels so sorry for herself that you stop caring. Or I did at least.”

“The one that got me, ” he says, his voice low, “the only one that did, and that wasn’t sort of overdramatic, dumbass drama, was that paragraph about how you can just miss your chance.”

“‘In the ill-judged execution of the well-judged plan of things,’” I quote, “‘the call seldom produces the comer, the man to love rarely coincides with the hour for loving.’”

“Yeah.” He exhales. “That. Bad timing with what could’ve been a good thing.”


That statement hangs there in the air like it’s been written in smoke.

I clear my throat.

Cass kicks some gravel off the road. Then he laughs. “I can’t believe you have it memorized.” He glances at me, and I shrug, my cheeks blazing. “Actually, yeah,” he says. “I can.” He smiles down at the ground.

We’re quiet again.

“I thought maybe I was wrong, just not getting this book,”

he adds finally. “Half the stuff I read doesn’t stay in my head.

Maybe more than half. I can’t write a paper to save my life. The words—what I want to say—just get jumbled up when I try to put them down on paper.”

“You know exactly what to do with Em, though,” I point out, seizing on the change of topic like a life raft. We’re nearly to the beach, walking so close together that I keep feeling his rough knuckles brush against my arm.

“It’s no big deal, Gwen. Like I said, that’s my thing. I might have started working at Lend a Hand—that camp—because of my transcript—and because Dad got me the job, like he’s gotten me every other job—but I really got into it. Swimming’s always been big for me. Figuring out how to make it work with different issues—that I can do. And Emory . . . he’s easy.

Not autistic, right?”

I shake my head. “We don’t know what he is, but that’s not it.”

“Yeah, I could see he was different with the water. When you teach kids with autism, a lot of times there’s this sensory stuff. You have to hold on to them really tight. And it’s easier to get all the way into the water right away with them instead of going slowly, like Emory.”

I slow, glance at him, fall in step again. “How do you know this?” A side of Cass I’ve never seen.

“When I’m interested, I get focused.” He kicks a rock away from the road, hands in pockets, not looking at me.

I’m trying to decode his mood, which seems to keep shifting like the wind coming off the water, both of which now have a sort of electricity. There’s a storm coming. I can feel it.

When we get to the beach, Cass reaches into his pocket and pulls out a loop of keys, unlocking the tiny boathouse, which smells both damp and warm, flecks of dust swirling in the air.

The dark green kayak is buried under several others, so there’s a lot of shifting around and rearranging and not very much conversation for a bit.

He hands me a double-handed paddle after we drag the boat down the rocky sand. “Want to steer?”

“I’ve never even been in a kayak before,” I tell him.

“Bet you still want to steer,” Cass says, grinning slightly as he trails his paddle into the water and heads into the inlet near Sandy Claw.

We snake around turn after turn in the salt marsh. I keep sticking my paddle in too far, flipping it out too fast, so sprays of water flip up, soaking Cass. The first few times he pretends not to notice, but by the fourth, he turns around, eyebrow lifted.

“Accident,” I say hastily.

“Maybe we should just use one paddle. You’re potentially more dangerous with this than the hedge clippers. Let’s switch places.”

Holding on to the side, as the kayak rocks precariously in the shallow water, I wedge myself around him. He settles back, then lowers his hand, gesturing me to sit. I sink down. There’s water in the bottom of the boat and it seeps into my bikini bottom. Cass takes my paddle out and rests it on the kayak floor, lifts one of my hands, then another, situating my palms on the two-sided paddle, under his. “See, you can still have control. I know how you are about that.” His voice is so close to my ear that his breath lifts the stray strands of hair that curl there. “Dig deep on one side, let the other drift on this turn up here.”

I do as he tells me, and the kayak slowly turns, snagging briefly in the sea grass, then moving on.

We’re only a few bends in the inlet from the beach when the clouds finally break and fat raindrops begin scattering around us, plopping, into the water, splattering onto my shoulder. At first just a few and then the sky opens up and it’s a deluge, as though someone is pouring a giant version of one of Emory’s buckets onto the kayak. We both start paddling like crazy, but I’m trying to pull the paddle back and Cass is moving it forward, which stalls us till he again shifts his hand on mine, tightening his grip, says, “Like this,” dipping the paddle in the right direction, so we’re in sync at last.

Finally, we reach the beach and get out. Cass hauls and I shove and soon the kayak is at the door. He shouts, but I can’t hear him above the rain. He hooks his toes under the kayak, flipping it upside down so it won’t fill with water, then kicks the door open and pulls me inside the boathouse, yanking the door shut.