“No,” said Johnny.
“I’m wondering how we can say your granddad owns this island. Not legally but actually.”
“Please don’t get started on the evils of the Pilgrims,” moaned Johnny.
“No. I’m asking, how can we say land belongs to anyone?” Gat waved at the sand, the ocean, the sky.
Mirren shrugged. “People buy and sell land all the time.”
“Can’t we talk about sex or murder?” asked Johnny.
Gat ignored him. “Maybe land shouldn’t belong to people at all. Or maybe there should be limits on what they can own.” He leaned forward. “When I went to India this winter, on that volunteer trip, we were building toilets. Building them because people there, in this one village, didn’t have them.”
“We all know you went to India,” said Johnny. “You told us like forty-seven times.”
Here is something I love about Gat: he is so enthusiastic, so relentlessly interested in the world, that he has trouble imagining the possibility that other people will be bored by what he’s saying. Even when they tell him outright. But also, he doesn’t like to let us off easy. He wants to make us think—even when we don’t feel like thinking.
He poked a stick into the embers. “I’m saying we should talk about it. Not everyone has private islands. Some people work on them. Some work in factories. Some don’t have work. Some don’t have food.”
“Stop talking, now,” said Mirren.
“Stop talking, forever,” said Johnny.
“We have a warped view of humanity on Beechwood,” Gat said. “I don’t think you see that.”
“Shut up,” I said. “I’ll give you more chocolate if you shut up.”
And Gat did shut up, but his face contorted. He stood abruptly, picked up a rock from the sand, and threw it with all his force. He pulled off his sweatshirt and kicked off his shoes. Then he walked into the sea in his jeans.
I watched the muscles of his shoulders in the moonlight, the spray kicking up as he splashed in. He dove and I thought: If I don’t follow him now, that girl Raquel’s got him. If I don’t follow him now, he’ll go away. From the Liars, from the island, from our family, from me.
I threw off my sweater and followed Gat into the sea in my dress. I crashed into the water, swimming out to where he lay on his back. His wet hair was slicked off his face, showing the thin scar through one eyebrow.
I reached for his arm. “Gat.”
He startled. Stood in the waist-high sea.
“Sorry,” I whispered.
“I don’t tell you to shut up, Cady,” he said. “I don’t ever say that to you.”
He was silent.
“Please don’t shut up,” I said.
I felt his eyes go over my body in my wet dress. “I talk too much,” he said. “I politicize everything.”
“I like it when you talk,” I said, because it was true. When I stopped to listen, I did like it.
“It’s that everything makes me …” He paused. “Things are messed up in the world, that’s all.”
“Maybe I should”—Gat took my hands, turned them over to look at the words written on the backs—“I should live for today and not be agitating all the time.”
My hand was in his wet hand.
I shivered. His arms were bare and wet. We used to hold hands all the time, but he hadn’t touched me all summer.
“It’s good that you look at the world the way you do,” I told him.
Gat let go of me and leaned back into the water. “Johnny wants me to shut up. I’m boring you and Mirren.”
I looked at his profile. He wasn’t just Gat. He was contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee. All that was there, in the lids of his brown eyes, his smooth skin, his lower lip pushed out. There was coiled energy inside.
“I’ll tell you a secret,” I whispered.
I reached out and touched his arm again. He didn’t pull away. “When we say Shut up, Gat, that isn’t what we mean at all.”
“What we mean is, we love you. You remind us that we’re selfish bastards. You’re not one of us, that way.”
He dropped his eyes. Smiled. “Is that what you mean, Cady?”
“Yes,” I told him. I let my fingers trail down his floating, outstretched arm.
“I can’t believe you are in that water!” Johnny was standing ankle-deep in the ocean, his jeans rolled up. “It’s the Arctic. My toes are freezing off.”
“It’s nice once you get in,” Gat called back.
“Don’t be weak!” yelled Gat. “Be manly and get in the stupid water.”
Johnny laughed and charged in. Mirren followed.
And it was—exquisite.
The night looming above us. The hum of the ocean. The bark of gulls.
THAT NIGHT I had trouble sleeping.
After midnight, he called my name.
I looked out my window. Gat was lying on his back on the wooden walkway that leads to Windemere. The golden retrievers were lying near him, all five: Bosh, Grendel, Poppy, Prince Philip, and Fatima. Their tails thumped gently.
The moonlight made them all look blue.
“Come down,” he called.
Mummy’s light was out. The rest of the island was dark. We were alone, except for all the dogs.
“Scoot,” I told him. The walkway wasn’t wide. When I lay down next to him, our arms touched, mine bare and his in an olive-green hunting jacket.
We looked at the sky. So many stars, it seemed like a celebration, a grand, illicit party the galaxy was holding after the humans had been put to bed.
I was glad Gat didn’t try to sound knowledgeable about constellations or say stupid stuff about wishing on stars. But I didn’t know what to make of his silence, either.
“Can I hold your hand?” he asked.
I put mine in his.
“The universe is seeming really huge right now,” he told me. “I need something to hold on to.”
His thumb rubbed the center of my palm. All my nerves concentrated there, alive to every movement of his skin on mine. “I am not sure I’m a good person,” he said after a while.
“I’m not sure I am, either,” I said. “I’m winging it.”
“Yeah.” Gat was silent for a moment. “Do you believe in God?”