I mean . . . That summer? We did know each other. We were always at the beach or on the boat or doing those crazy scav-enger hunts. I didn’t talk to you because of anything Spence said. I didn’t, um, look at you and just see your body. I sure as hell didn’t sleep with you because Spence told me to. That had nothing to do with anything but you and me. I asked you to the party because I liked you.”
“Cass, why didn’t you just ask me out . . . before that?”
“Because I couldn’t read you anymore. I thought you’d say no.
I’m no good at asking. And I hate doing stuff I’m no good at.”
I stare at him. “Those are really stupid reasons.”
“Because Spence told me to would be stupider,” Cass says. “I thought maybe some opportunity would come up. When you waded into the water in your heroic rescue attempt, I figured you had to like me. Too.”
He pauses, waiting for me to say something. Confirm something. But one thing is clear. Cass is much braver than me. I just look at him, silently urging him to continue.
“Like I said. I didn’t think you did dates. That’s what everyone said. When I asked. Because I did. Ask.” He sighs, rubs the back of his neck, looks away from me. “So I invented the whole party thing. Which I realized afterward was a stupid-ass way of handling it. But, at the time, it was what I could do. I wanted to be with you. Any way I could.”
“Cass—” I inch closer to him on the couch, edge my hand onto his knee. He covers it with his.
“Look, I want to get this out. So . . . so listen.”
“I’m listening. I came to the party. And we . . .” I trail off, pull at a tiny elastic string at the side of my bikini bottom.
“For the record? Since we’re telling the truth now? That was not all me. You . . . you can’t sit there and act like, like, I took advantage of you. Because . . . because I may not have known . . . but you were right there with me. I know you were.
I felt it. And I remember everything. Everything.”
My skin prickles, awareness, total recall.
“I didn’t plan on hooking up with you that night! That’s the truth. You were the one who—” He stops dead.
“Pushed it, right?”
“No! No. That was both of us. But I didn’t plan it. Going that far. If I had—if I had, I would have had protection, which, you may remember, I didn’t. Which completely freaked me out afterward when you wouldn’t even talk to me and just looked at me like I was scum.”
“I’m on the Pill.”
“How the hell would I have known that? You could have mentioned it.”
“You didn’t ask.”
“We should have used a condom anyway. But I could hardly think, Gwen. One minute we were kissing and the next minute your shirt was off and that was it—no more thinking.”
“You’re helpless in the face of boobs?”
He studies my face for a moment, then, at the sight of my smile, breaks slowly into one of his own. Then sobers.
“Yours? Um, yeah. But that’s not the point. The point is, what happened didn’t have anything to do with what Spence said. Except that he screwed it all up for us. Well . . . he and the other guys. And me.”
“And me,” I whisper, almost hoping he doesn’t hear me. But when I look up, his face is suddenly very close to mine. So he must have.
“Are we clear?” he asks gently, his eyes unflinching on mine.
“Clear,” I say. Then look down.
I need to say it.
“Except . . . except for what I, um, did next.” Praise God for that bathing suit thread. I pull on it, tangle my finger in it, loop it around and around, concentrating completely until Cass again covers my hand with his own, calluses brushing my knuckles. Then he’s motionless. Expressionless. I’d rather not speak, or remember it at all, but—I have to say it. Tell him.
“Sleeping with Spence,” I say.
His eyes, so straightforward and honest a second ago, go distant again. He picks at his thumbnail, jaw tight. When he finally says something, his voice is so soft I have to lean forward to hear it.
“Yeah . . . you . . . uh . . . what was that about?”
“Aside from me just being idiotic?” I sigh. “I was . . .”
Drunk. Scared. Hurt. Feeling out of place. Crumble lined. All true, but . . . “Trying to hurt you.”
He’s had his head bent over that fascinating nail, but now he looks me in the eye, his voice flat and hard as his eyes. “Mission accomplished.”
My stomach clenches.
I felt stupid about what happened with Alex. I ached about how things ended at Cass’s party. I was ashamed about Spence.
But in this moment, it’s as though I have never truly experi-enced, or cared about, any of those emotions before, as though the volume has been cranked up on all of them to the Nth degree. I’ve been dumb with boys. Thoughtless, casual, stupid.
But I was mean to Cass.
All this time I thought what stood between us was what he did to me. How I couldn’t and shouldn’t forgive it—him being that guy. When all along I was ignoring what I did back to him.
How I didn’t want to admit that I’d been that girl.
I feel my nose tickle, tears prick the back of my throat. My voice is thick. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
It’s quiet all around us. So hushed. I can hear my own heart.
His head’s ducked. I can see the flicker of his pulse in the hollow of his throat, marking out the seconds of silence between us.
Then, slowly, he raises his head, takes his thumb, touches away my tears, smiling just a little, and I know this time it is a romantic gesture because my mascara is long gone.
“Me too,” he says.
I take a deep breath, as though I’m about to leap off a bridge.
That’s exactly what this feels like—catching my breath, hold-ing it, leaping, sinking down, trusting something will propel me back to the surface.
“So . . . I hurt you. You hurt me. Any chance we can get past that?”
Cass looks down for a moment, takes a breath. I hold mine.
“Well . . .” he says slowly. “You’d have to promise . . .”
“. . . that you really are past the lobsters.”