I smile. “Lobsters? What lobsters?”

Cass laughs.

I wait for him to lean forward, but instead he inclines back, raises an eyebrow at me.

My turn again.

After everything, still, it takes every single bit of courage I have to do what I do next. But I take it, use it, and tip forward to kiss first one dimple, then the other, then those smiling lips.

Chapter Twenty-nine

The sky’s gone clear, washed with stars that glitter like mica.

The night feels clean and peaceful. Cass is walking me home.

Of course. We’re both tired and yawning by now, quiet, but a whole different quiet than on the walk to the beach, or back to the Field House. Strange how silence can do so many different things.

We’re close enough that I can feel the warmth radiating off his body, but not touching, not holding hands the way we had up the hill. I find myself waiting for that again, for him to take my hand. Something that simple. A bridge between us.

Instead, he tips his head to the deep bowl of the night, where the clouds have already scudded away. A tiny light glitters in the distance, flickers. Fireflies. Like stars around us.

“The first maps were of the sky,” I quote.

“That’s right,” he says. “You remember that?”


“That you had your theories on why. You thought they’d have been too busy escaping the mastodons, or whatever, to look up and want to draw what they saw.”

“Maybe it reminded them there was more to life than mastodons?” Cass says.

I move a little closer, graze the back my hand against him.

But still, nothing.

More to life than what you are scared of. I reach out, this second time, no mixed messages, interlace my fingers with his.

I don’t know if Cass knows that pulling off my shirt was easier for me to do than this . . . or apologizing about Spence.

But I think he might, because his fingers tighten on mine.

Now we’re crunching up my driveway. The lantern outside the door is tipped crazily to the side, one orangey bulb lit, flickering, the other burnt out. I can hear Nic’s voice in my head, “Gotta fix that. ” And Dad getting on him for not having done it already.

Cass leans down, turning to me. I feel a buzzing in my ears.

One ear, actually. He brushes his hand next to my cheek, into my hair, pulls.


“Sorry.” He opens his hand, smiles. “Firefly. You caught one.”

The dark spot on his palm stays there a moment, then gleams and lifts into the sky. Then Cass pulls me slightly to my tiptoes, as though I’m much shorter than he is, as though I weigh nothing at all, and kisses me thoroughly. “G’night, Gwen. See you tomorrow.”

It’s Christmas.

Or it feels like it.

The instant my eyes snap open, I get that jolt of adrenaline, that tight thrill, the sense that this day can’t help but be mag-ical.

Except that waking up on December twenty-fifth on Seashell

generally means listening to the pipes bang as Mom showers, hearing Grandpa Ben explain once again to Emory why he has to wait until everyone else gets up to see what Santa brought, hearing Nic call out, “Gwen, I don’t have to wrap this thing for you, do I? I mean, you’ll unwrap it in two seconds anyway.”

But now, warm summer smells blow through my win-dow. Beach roses. The loamy sharp scent of red cedar mulch.

Cut grass drying in the sun. I can hear Grandpa singing Sina-tra from the small backyard garden. Mom echoing from the kitchen. “Luck be a lady . . . ”

I stretch luxuriously. It feels like everything is new, even though I’m in the same clothes I fell into bed wearing last night, and here’s Fabio, as usual hogging the mattress, legs outstretched, paws flopped, breathing bad dog breath into my face. Still, it’s like all the atoms in everything have been shaken and rearranged.

If I keep on this way, I’ll be composing the kind of embarrassing poetry that appears in our school literary magazine.

But it’s the first time I’ve had a “morning after” that felt delicious, not nauseating—even though it wasn’t “after” anything but a lot of talking and some kissing.

Amazingly, Nic has left some hot water in the shower. I wash my hair, then spend a ridiculous amount of time rearranging it different ways, finally ending up with the same one as always.

I yell at Mom because my dark green tank top is missing. She comes in, does that annoying Mom thing where she finds it in five seconds after I’ve been scrabbling through my drawers for ten minutes. Then she lays her hand on my forehead. “You all right, honey? You look feverish.”

“I’m fine, Mom. Do you think I should wear this green one?

Or the burgundy one? Or just white?”

My nerves are jumping, like sparklers that light, ignite, flare, fizzle. She’s all serene. “I’m sure Mrs. Ellington won’t care, honey.”

I hold up one, then the next, then the next. “Which looks the best? Really, Mom—you need to tell me.”

An “aha” expression flits across her face. But she says simply, “The green brings out the emerald in your eyes.”

“My eyes are brown.”

“Tourmaline with gold and emerald,” Mom corrects, smiling at me.

I smile back, even though they really are just plain old brown.

I turn my back, pull on the green tank top. “You got through the storm okay?” she asks, beginning to refold the jumbled clothes in my drawer. “I didn’t hear you come in. Musta been out pretty late.”

“Um, yeah. We, uh . . . watched a movie. Made popcorn.”

Kept our hands to ourselves.

“That Cassidy is a nice boy,” she offers mildly. “Such good manners. You don’t see that much in kids your age.”

This is one of the things about feeling this way. I want to grab on to every little bit of conversation about Cass and expand on it. “ Yeah, he’s always been very polite. He’s so . . . so . . . Do you think I should wear the khaki shorts or the black skirt?”

“The black one is a little short, don’t you think? Mrs. E.

isn’t as conservative as she could be, but you wouldn’t want to push it. I thought he’d be full of himself. Kids who look

like that usually are. But he doesn’t seem that way at all.”

“He’s not,” I say briefly but dreamily. Embarrassing poetry, here I come.