Sam remembered the summer Meg’s father had moved his family back into the old house falling down above the bay. Sam’s home life that year had sucked. Stepmom number two—pretty blond Julie, with her magazines and manicures—had moved out at Christmas, and before the school year was even over, Angela, broody, moody, and already pregnant, had been installed in her place. Once Sam might have been excited over the idea of a half sibling, but not then. He was fifteen, for Christ’s sake. It was embarrassing, having a father who couldn’t keep it in his pants sticking it to a woman twenty years younger.
The old man, of course, had swollen up like a bullfrog over this evidence of his mojo. You better watch yourself, boy, he said to Sam. Got yourself a little brother or sister now coming up behind you. That’s half your inheritance.
It made Sam sick.
That afternoon he’d escaped on his bicycle, taking his time going home after killing a couple of hours on the beach. It wasn’t like anybody would miss him. It was lame, not having a car. The old man had promised Sam a new Jeep Wrangler when he turned sixteen, but with all the fuss over the baby coming, who knew what would happen? So Sam straddled his bike at the bottom of the drive near the rental truck, watching the new family move in: a quiet boy about his own age, with big hands and shoulders; a skinny girl maybe a couple years younger; and a happy little kid who barreled in everybody’s way.
The front screen slammed. The girl came out of the house and down the walk. Sam was making a study of breasts that summer, as many as he could see up close or get his hands on. This girl was too young and too thin to have much of his new favorite thing, but he liked the way she moved, quick and determined. Her hair was dark and short and shiny.
She caught him watching and looked straight at him instead of down and away like most girls. Her head cocked at a challenging angle. “What are you looking at?”
He flushed. “Nothing.”
Her brother came up behind her and laid a hand on her shoulder. Sam jerked his chin in a silent what’s-up.
The boy gave him a cool look and a nod in reply. “Come on, Meggie. We’ve got stuff to do.”
The mother approached from the house. “Matt? Who’s this?”
She looked the way a mother was supposed to look, Sam thought, her dark hair slightly frizzy with humidity, smile lines at the corners of her eyes.
“Sam Grady, ma’am.”
The smile lines deepened, just like he knew they would. Moms—other moms, not his own—liked being called ma’am. “Nice to meet you, Sam Grady. I’m Tess Fletcher. There are sodas in the cooler if you’re thirsty.”
“When you’re done standing around jawing,” barked a voice from inside the orange-and-white truck, “I could use a hand with this couch.”
Sam and the boy, Matt, jumped forward at the same time.
And when the rental truck was empty and the boxes piled in every room, Tess Fletcher had invited Sam to dinner.
For the next four years, until he and Matt went away to college, Sam had hung out at the Fletchers’ every chance he got, shooting hoops with Matt in the driveway, scraping paint off the old windowsills, making himself agreeable, making himself useful, doing anything so they would let him stay, so he could pretend to be one of them.
Until he fucked everything up.
Nobody knew. Meg never told. But his guilt and her silence had created a wall, an invisible barrier between them.
He had a chance to fix things now. He wasn’t going to blow it.