When he drops his hand and opens his eyes, he keeps his head down.

“Gwen. I don’t lie. I’m not a liar. I’m not a—a user or whatever you think. I’m me. And I thought you finally cared who that was. I thought that was what this summer was starting to be about.” He raises his head.

“I don’t know what this summer is about,” I admit.

“Well, I do,” he says, the slightest edge of bitterness in his voice. Then he turns fully to me, looks directly at me.

No, not bitterness. Hurt.

And I can practically see every weapon, any defenses he’s had up, the distant look, the rich-boy poise, the shielding charm, slip from him, hear them all clatter to the floor.

He takes his hands out of his pockets, hangs them at his sides, lifts his eyes to mine again and lets me read everything in his.




The realization is quick, sharp, and shattering like that bag striking the wall.

I’m not the only one who can get hurt here.

Who was hurt here.

I can’t fathom his face in the dark. But right now, in this moment, I don’t need lightning to see.

He was right. I should come with a YouTube instructional video. Or a complete boxed set. How the hell can I expect him to figure me out when I don’t even get myself? And worse, I’m a total hypocrite—hurt and angry that he’d think about having sex with me, when I’ve gone there so many times in my own mind. I still don’t understand what happened after the Bronco that night. Or even in it. No. But maybe . . . maybe there is an explanation, other than the one I’ve been so sure was the only truth.

Because nothing about Cass is, or ever has been, “no big deal.”

It’s very still. The rain has passed far into the distance, the high winds quieted down. Nothing to drown out my thoughts or the words I might say. Have to say.

“Guess we should go,” Cass says, his voice remote again, as if he has decided this is just impossible.

I bend down, retrieve the rumpled bag full of broken glass, oozing root beer from a jagged tear in the soggy bottom. Wrap it up in a beach towel. Pick up the picnic pieces, cheese, bread, strawberries. Gather it all together. The cleaning woman’s daughter.

But not only that.

“Cass.” I swallow. “I—I can get past the lobsters.”

“That’s a start,” he says, his voice cool.

“C-can I walk you home?” I ask. “So you don’t have to turn the key in the lock?”

A long silence. “Is that the only reason?” he asks finally.

I take a deep breath. Another deep breath.

“Maybe not,” I say at last, “the only one.”

In the low tide, the waves are lapping lazily far down the beach.

The only lingering sign of the storm are dimples in the sand from the pelting rain, and huge piles of kelp and rocks and boat shells littering the beach.

“Heavy lifting to come for the yard boy,” I say, scrambling for casual.

Cass tips his head in acknowledgment.

I trip on something and nearly fall and he reaches out a hand to catch me, then lets it drop before he can touch me.

Slowly, infinitesimally, as though if I moved quickly I might scare him off, I reach out for his hand, tangle mine in it, fingers slipping between fingers, then hand locking on hand.

Silence while I try to find what to say.

But then:

“Thank you,” Cass says simply. The way he did that night in the Bronco.

Good manners. It occurs to me that this is a kindness. Not simply a habit, not only charm.

Then, as if he knows what I’m thinking, is reinforcing it, he moves close enough to me that I can feel his heat, warm skin.

He tightens his hand on mine. But still, the walk uphill is long and silent.

When we reach the top, I turn to face him “If . . . if . . . it wasn’t about a jumbo pack of condoms. Or thinking I was easy. What was it, then?”

“We’re going to talk now? Finally.”

“Finally?” I breathe.

“Yes. We’re not having this discussion in the middle of the street, though. Come on.” He tows me toward the dark hulk looming against the stars, the Field House. I hurry up the worn wooden steps, follow him into the hideous, haggy, yellow-walled apartment. Which seems all too exposed and open without any buffer between us. No party with room-fuls of people. No open Seashell road with a dozen possible witnesses. No Fabio. No Spence. Nothing but air and us.

We sit down on the couch. He takes a deep breath. Then another. He’s nervous. He looks down at his hand. Clench, unclench.

“Just spit it out,” I say. Beautiful. I sure do have a lyrical way with words.

He takes another deep breath. “I think I need some water.”

“I think you’re stalling. Please, Cass.”

I wrap my hand around his forearm. He turns to face me.

The sofa creaks. Definitely a relative of Myrtle’s. Great how the furniture in my life talks more easily than I do.

“Let me help you out. Spence told you I was easy . . . so . . .

He did, didn’t he?”

“Truth? Yeah. That you had crumble lines.”

“What the hell are crumble lines?”

“This garbage of Spence’s. He likes to spout off all these theories about girls and how to get them.”

“Because he’s Mr. Notorious, I-Had-Five-Girls-in-My-Hot-Tub-at-Once.”

“Three, for the record. Plus, one of them was his cousin who was just in there because she was in track and had run a marathon and her muscles were sore. What he says is to look for crumble lines—places where girls feel bad about them-303

selves or whatever. Then you get them at the right moment and they do stuff they might not ordinarily do.”

“That’s the sickest theory I’ve ever heard,” I say. So right too, I think, remembering that party and that side room. How it all had nothing to do with what I felt about Spence.

“Yup. And dead effective. How Spence plays his game. So, uh, he said you had a reputation.”

I wince. He holds up a hand, stopping whatever I was about to jabber.

“So what, Gwen? I have a reputation in my own family. Not to mention at Hodges. It happens.”

He shuts his eyes, pauses, then opens them and continues, his words coming out rough and hurried.

“I always told him to shut it when he brought you up with his crumble line crap. So yeah, he’d said that and yeah, I’d heard stuff. Locker room shit. But Gwen . . . I knew you. I mean, we knew each other. It was a long time ago, but . . . well. We did.