Those long fingers moving so expertly, like on the lines of the sailboat.
I move back for a second to let the top fall to my waist but, plastered by water, it stays in place. Cass pulls me close again, wraps his palms around my waist, instead of making the move I expect. Want.
We’ve hardly paused for air and I’m completely breathless.
I pull back, gasping as though surfacing after diving to the ocean floor.
We stare at each other, but it’s too dark to see each other’s faces. One breath. Another. Then he makes a little sound, like a hum, and lowers his forehead to my shoulder, circling his thumb around the front of me, dipping it into my belly button.
At which point, my stomach rumbles.
“Is that thunder?” he asks as the lightning flashes to illuminate his smile. “It sounded so close.”
I cover my eyes. Then burst out laughing.
“Don’t worry. We can take care of that.” His thumb nudges teasingly into my stomach again. Then he steps back, moves over to the corner. I hear something fall over and clatter on the ground—an oar, probably, then the rustle of paper. But it’s too dark to see what’s going on, and, wait, why did he move away?
We’re plastered against each another in a dark enclosed space, damp skin against damp skin, and he . . . steps back? Isn’t he supposed to be losing control? I yank at the ties of my bikini, retie them.
Cass is pulling his towel from the pile of life jackets he tossed it on. Flapping it out to lay it flat on the saw-dusty slats of the wood floor, as though we’re on the beach. He picks something up and sets it on the towel, just as lightning illuminates two familiar white bags, both embellished with the black drawn figure of a mermaid, extending a plate of stuffed quahogs. Cass sits down cross-legged, then reaches up for my hand, lacing his fingers through mine and pulling gently.
“C’mon. I’m hungry too.”
I drop down on my knees, sit back on my heels as he starts hauling things out of one of the bags. A long loaf of French bread, a big wedge of Brie cheese, strawberries, gourmet choc-olate . . . I know the contents by heart. I’ve packed tons of these for delivery to day-trippers coming in off the boats.
“You brought a Dockside Delight?”
“It seemed like a better plan than the carton of raw eggs and the Gatorade, which were the only things I had in my fridge.”
He breaks a piece of the bread off and hands me the rest.
But instead of the warm feeling that was chasing itself all over me a few minutes ago, I’m suddenly chilled.
He had a picnic waiting. In the boathouse. Ahead of time.
“You planned this—” I say.
“Well, yeah, sure, partly—” Then, more warily, “That’s bad?
What did I do now?”
In flashes, like old photographs flicking from one moment to the next, I see the party.
The boys and their knowing laughter.
The guilt in Cass’s eyes.
Jim Oberman, freshman year, dragging me against the locker to make his girlfriend jealous. Alex, just wanting to score an island girl. Spence. Just sex. Am I never going to be anything more than somebody’s strategy, a destination marked off on a road map and then passed through for someplace better?
“You planned this,” I repeat.
Cass sets down the bread, steeples his hands, and looks up at the skylight as though praying for patience. “Partly. Like I said.
Not everything, because nothing ever goes quite the way you mean it to. Not for me, anyway. I wanted to take you out on the water. We both . . . relax there. By ourselves. So yeah, I planned that. I don’t have a kayak, so I had to borrow one, which also involved premeditation.”
“And having towels all ready in the boathouse?”
His tone is getting rougher now. “Beach towels. I thought we might go for a swim, after the kayak. Then have something to eat. On the beach. I didn’t plan the storm, Gwen. Didn’t look at the weather. And they’re towels, not a sleeping bag and a jumbo box of condoms.” His voice, which has risen, actually cracks.
“That’s not what this is about.”
“Not at all?” I ask. Great. Now I sound disappointed.
The storm seems to be moving away, so no lightning to display his face. “Gwen. I’d be lying if I said that. And I’m not going to lie to you. Ever. But if I don’t, are you going to kill me, freeze me out again? Or get up, walk out, leave us back where we were all spring? What’s it take with you?”
“With me? I’m not the one who flips hot and cold con-stantly!”
“You’re not, huh?” Cass says, getting to his feet. “From where I’m standing, that’s exactly what you do. I never know which Gwen I’m going to get. The one who acts like I’m something she stepped in or the one who—”
“Unzips your pants?” I ask.
He smacks his forehead with the heel of his hand. “Right.
Because I couldn’t possibly want anything more than to get some.”
I stand. “It’s just a setup, Cass,” I say. “Like in March. A means to an end. That’s what I am, what—what this is.”
Fast reflexes. Before I know what’s happening, Cass bends over, grabs the bag, and throws it against the wall. Splintering crash, bottles breaking, soda foaming. I take a step back. He jams his hands into the pockets of his suit, turns away from me. “Fine, Gwen. Gotcha. And you’ve got me figured out. Clue me in on this, then. Why do I bother with you? Why not just ram my head against a brick wall? It would be easier and less painful. Why are you so freaking— burned, that, that nothing I do counts! I’m not fucking Alex Robinson. I’m not that asshole senior with the psycho girlfriend Vivien told me about. I’m not . . . I’m not Spence. Can you get that? Like, ever? How come it’s so clear to you when some made-up fictional characters are massively stupid and you can’t see it at all when it’s you and me?”
“Because you never tell me the truth! It’s all charm, and la-la-la, and I’m Cass, I’ll boil your lobsters, and I’ll charm your pants off, but it’s not what’s true.”
He takes a long, deep breath, pushing the heel of his hand against his forehead, as though taking his own temperature.
“You seriously need to get past those lobsters,” he says, finally.
The storm is passing, darkness outside graying lighter, so I can see him slide his hand slowly down, cover his eyes, see the small shake of his head. He stands like that for a long time.