One afternoon, Diana rides her bike all the way to Provincetown, almost ten miles along the road that hugs the coastline. She passes the Flower Cottages, which are trim and white with green shutters, each one named for a different flower, the two motels, and the cottage colonies that straddle the line between Truro and Provincetown. When she's in town, she locks her bike at the library and walks along Commercial Street. She tries not to gawk at the drag queens, and slips into a store that sells vibrators and lubricants and leather harnesses, flavored condoms, and other things, glass dildos and cock rings and anal beads in locked glass cases. She leans over, her breath misting the glass, trying to figure out how each item works, which part goes where, and to what effect. No boy has ever touched her, and at home, with her sister sleeping less than three feet away, she's too nervous to touch herself.
But now, she's got a bedroom to herself, a bedroom with a lock on the door, and her shower has a nozzle that she can slip off its post and hold between her legs, adjusting the flow and the pressure until she's gasping and quivering, limp-limbed and flushed against the tiles, and the water's gone from hot to warm to cold. Having a wonderful summer, she writes, in the postcards she sends home. Really enjoying myself!
One afternoon, she decides to try to get a look at the Lathrop mansion from the water, so she descends the stairs and starts walking in the opposite direction, toward Great Hollow Beach. She's wearing her Christmas bikini, with a fine gold chain around her right ankle and her hair spilling loose against her shoulders. The sunshine warms her skin as she splashes through the shallows, and a school of minnows goes darting past, the fish flashing like shadows over her feet.
Kelly and Maeve have both told her about Great Hollow Beach. The Irish and English kids who work at the restaurants come there when they're off-shift, along with teenagers on vacation. There's a volleyball net, set up on the sand, and boom boxes blaring competing radio stations, and usually beer, and sometimes pot.
"Over here!" Diana peers along the beach until she sees Maeve's waving hand. Maeve is wearing a green maillot, cut way up on her thighs, and her red hair is in a French braid with tendrils that brush her cheeks. She introduces the boys that she's with: Fitz and Tubbs and Stamper and Poe. "Are those your real names?" Diana asks, and the boys all start laughing.
"We're the men of the Emlen Academy," one of them—Poe?'—tells her.
"Ignore them," says Maeve, in her Irish accent. "They're arse-holes." She hands Diana a beer, and Diana sips it as one of the boys snaps open a beach towel, letting it unfurl and float down onto the sand. He's wearing blue board shorts and a Red Sox cap over dark, curly hair. His blue T-shirt says EMLEN across the chest. His teeth are straight and very white. There's a patch of hair on his chest and a trail leading down toward his waistband. Diana lifts her eyes to find the boy watching her. She blushes, but he just grins.
"Want to sit?"
She hopes she looks graceful as she eases herself down, feeling his scrutiny, wishing that she'd worn lipstick, or at least a little mascara. Ever since she came to the Cape, she hasn't put anything but sunscreen on her face. But her skin is tanned golden-brown and her hair is as glossy as a chestnut shell. Instead of flinching from his attention, she sits up straighter, and toys with one of her bikini's straps.
"Tell me everything about you," he says.
She laughs, even though she isn't exactly sure if he meant to be funny. "Which one are you again?"
"I'm Poe," he says. "Where are you from?"
She tells him that she's from Boston, that she is working as a mother's helper. He says that he just graduated from this Emlen Academy, and that he and a bunch of his classmates have rented two of the Flower Cottages that line the curve of Beach Road, so that they can be together for one last summer, before they all go off to college.
Diana knows, from friends, and from novels, that she is supposed to listen to him, to flatter, to ask him questions and keep him talking. But this guy, Poe, wants to know about her. Does she like living in a city? ("It's noisy," she says, and tells him that she can't get over how quiet it is here at night, how brightly the stars shine against the black of the sky.) What grade is she in? (Tenth, she says, and hopes he'll think that she just finished tenth grade, when, really, it's the grade she will start in September.) What's her favorite subject? (English, of course.) What does she want to do after high school?
"I'll go to college," she says. "Maybe Smith or Mount Holyoke." She'll need a scholarship to attend either one, but Dr. Levy, who went to Smith, tells her it's more than possible, and that she'd be happy to help Diana with her essays when the time comes.
"And how about after that?" asks Poe.
"I think I'd like to be a teacher." This sounds more realistic and less arrogant than telling him she wants to be an artist or a writer. "I like kids."
"I believe the children are our future," he tells her, deadpan, and smiles when she laughs. They've both worked their feet into the sand while they've been talking. As she watches, he scoops up a handful of fine sand and lets it spill slowly from his hand onto her ankle. She stares at the trickling grains. Poe isn't even touching her, but still, this feels like the most intimate thing a boy has ever done to her. For a minute, she's sure she's forgotten how to breathe.