“I know you don’t.”
“You’re hogging the blanket.”
Gat said, “I do find you pretty, Cady. I didn’t mean that the way it came out. In fact, when did you get so pretty? It’s distracting.”
“I look the same as always.”
“You changed over the school year. It’s putting me off my game.”
“You have a game?”
He nodded solemnly.
“That is the dumbest thing I ever heard. What is your game?”
“Nothing penetrates my armor. Hadn’t you noticed?”
That made me laugh. “No.”
“Damn. I thought it was working.”
We changed the subject. Talked about bringing the littles to Edgartown to see a movie in the afternoon, about sharks and whether they really ate people, about Plants Versus Zombies.
Then we drove back to the island.
Not long after that, Gat started lending me his books and finding me at the tiny beach in the early evenings. He’d search me out when I was lying on the Windemere lawn with the goldens.
We started walking together on the path that circles the island, Gat in front and me behind. We’d talk about books or invent imaginary worlds. Sometimes we’d end up walking several times around the edge before we got hungry or bored.
Beach roses lined the path, deep pink. Their smell was faint and sweet.
One day I looked at Gat, lying in the Clairmont hammock with a book, and he seemed, well, like he was mine. Like he was my particular person.
I got in the hammock next to him, silently. I took the pen out of his hand—he always read with a pen—and wrote Gat on the back of his left, and Cadence on the back of his right.
He took the pen from me. Wrote Gat on the back of my left, and Cadence on the back of my right.
I am not talking about fate. I don’t believe in destiny or soul mates or the supernatural. I just mean we understood each other. All the way.
But we were only fourteen. I had never kissed a boy, though I would kiss a few the next school year, and somehow we didn’t label it love.
SUMMER FIFTEEN I arrived a week later than the others. Dad had left us, and Mummy and I had all that shopping to do, consulting the decorator and everything.
Johnny and Mirren met us at the dock, pink in the cheeks and full of summer plans. They were staging a family tennis tournament and had bookmarked ice cream recipes. We would go sailing, build bonfires.
The littles swarmed and yelled like always. The aunts smiled chilly smiles. After the bustle of arrival, everyone went to Clairmont for cocktail hour.
I went to Red Gate, looking for Gat. Red Gate is a much smaller house than Clairmont, but it still has four bedrooms up top. It’s where Johnny, Gat, and Will lived with Aunt Carrie—plus Ed, when he was there, which wasn’t often.
I walked to the kitchen door and looked through the screen. Gat didn’t see me at first. He was standing at the counter wearing a worn gray T-shirt and jeans. His shoulders were broader than I remembered.
He untied a dried flower from where it hung upside down on a ribbon in the window over the sink. The flower was a beach rose, pink and loosely constructed, the kind that grows along the Beechwood perimeter.
Gat, my Gat. He had picked me a rose from our favorite walking place. He had hung it to dry and waited for me to arrive on the island so he could give it to me.
I had kissed an unimportant boy or three by now.
I had lost my dad.
I had come here to this island from a house of tears and falsehood
and I saw Gat,
and I saw that rose in his hand,
and in that one moment, with the sunlight from the window shining in on him,
the apples on the kitchen counter,
the smell of wood and ocean in the air,
I did call it love.
It was love, and it hit me so hard I leaned against the screen door that still stood between us, just to stay vertical. I wanted to touch him like he was a bunny, a kitten, something so special and soft your fingertips can’t leave it alone. The universe was good because he was in it. I loved the hole in his jeans and the dirt on his bare feet and the scab on his elbow and the scar that laced through one eyebrow. Gat, my Gat.
As I stood there, staring, he put the rose in an envelope. He searched for a pen, banging drawers open and shut, found one in his own pocket, and wrote.
I didn’t realize he was writing an address until he pulled a roll of stamps from a kitchen drawer.
Gat stamped the envelope. Wrote a return address.
It wasn’t for me.
I left the Red Gate door before he saw me and ran down to the perimeter. I watched the darkening sky, alone.
I tore all the roses off a single sad bush and threw them, one after the other, into the angry sea.
JOHNNY TOLD ME about the New York girlfriend that evening. Her name was Raquel. Johnny had even met her. He lives in New York, like Gat does, but downtown with Carrie and Ed, while Gat lives uptown with his mom. Johnny said Raquel was a modern dancer and wore black clothes.
Mirren’s brother, Taft, told me Raquel had sent Gat a package of homemade brownies. Liberty and Bonnie told me Gat had pictures of her on his phone.
Gat didn’t mention her at all, but he had trouble meeting my eyes.
That first night, I cried and bit my fingers and drank wine I snuck from the Clairmont pantry. I spun violently into the sky, raging and banging stars from their moorings, swirling and vomiting.
I hit my fist into the wall of the shower. I washed off the shame and anger in cold, cold water. Then I shivered in my bed like the abandoned dog that I was, my skin shaking over my bones.
The next morning, and every day thereafter, I acted normal. I tilted my square chin high.
We sailed and made bonfires. I won the tennis tournament.
We made vats of ice cream and lay in the sun.
One night, the four of us ate a picnic down on the tiny beach. Steamed clams, potatoes, and sweet corn. The staff made it. I didn’t know their names.
Johnny and Mirren carried the food down in metal roasting pans. We ate around the flames of our bonfire, dripping butter onto the sand. Then Gat made triple-decker s’mores for all of us. I looked at his hands in the firelight, sliding marshmallows onto a long stick. Where once he’d had our names written, now he had taken to writing the titles of books he wanted to read.
That night, on the left: Being and. On the right: Nothingness.
I had writing on my hands, too. A quotation I liked. On the left: Live in. On the right: today.
“Want to know what I’m thinking about?” Gat asked.
“Yes,” I said.