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After a man's body is found washed up on the shore, Anne Gordon's ten-year-old son David claims that he saw neighbor Bill Holleran push the man into the ocean. Although Bill insists that David is lying, he is soon convicted of murder. Bill has been renting a beach cottage from engineer Steve Martin, who returns from his assignment abroad and rushes to the district attorney's office to defend his tenant and friend. After Bill reveals that he and Anne had dated a few times, Steve tells the district attorney about his experience with David the previous summer: Steve is a confirmed bachelor who sees David sitting on the beach and asks him to race to the dock. When he lifts David's blanket, however, he sees that the boy's legs are in braces, and apologizes to Anne. Later, Steve buys David a radio and brings it to the beach, but when David notes the attraction between Steve and his mother, the sullen boy deliberately acts ungrateful. Anne explains that David's spine was injured five years earlier in a car accident that also killed her husband. Late that night, local youngsters start a fire on Steve's strip of beach, and after he and Anne help the firemen, she invites him in for coffee. Anne explains that she does not get out much because David hates to be in public, where people stare at him. Steve finally convinces her and David to join him on a picnic, and the next day drives them to watch the sloop races. David loves the boats but is afraid to be seen, so Steve parks on a high hill, and David enjoys the view until he sees Steve and Anne laughing intimately, at which point he insists that they go home. They stop at Appleby's store, where Steve urges Anne to let his friend, spinal injury expert Dr. Harvey Thornwald, see David, but she refuses, stating the boy has undergone too many painful, unsuccessful surgeries. Just then, shouts from outside alert them that the car, with David in the backseat, has rolled down a hill, and Steve suspects that David loosened the emergency brake in order to gain his mother's attention. When he visits that night with the news that someone tampered with the brake, Anne asks Steve to leave. Steve's girl friend, Barbara Brooks, visits that night, but sensing that Steve's mind is on something¿or someone¿else, she leaves. That weekend, Steve throws a party and invites Harvey, who diagnoses him as lovestruck. When they run out of ice, he uses the excuse to stop by Anne's, and there confesses his love. Anne kisses Steve, but walks away, only to come over the next day to declare that she loves him. While they embrace joyfully, David sits outside, crying. Soon after, Steve proposes, but Anne explains that she must spend all her time and energy on David, and rejects Steve's assurances that they can help David together. Hearing cries on the beach, they discover that David has fallen ill. Anne brings the boy into the house, and when Steve shows her the half-eaten bar of soap he has found, proving that David is faking his illness, she reveals that she knows that David will do anything to retain her attention. Crying, she states that she must take the place of all David will never have, and sends Steve away. Back in the present, Steve explains to the district attorney that David is sick in mind as well as body, and probably lied about Bill, but the lawyers cannot help Bill unless David retracts his charges. Steve visits Anne, who runs to greet him, even though nothing in her situation or attitude toward David has changed. That night, Steve announces that he is going to marry Anne, and though at first David seems angry, he quickly agrees to sail with Steve the next day. David enjoys the sail, especially when Steve teaches him how to shoot a gun, but when Anne hears the shots from shore, she fears the worst. Steve soon returns with a vibrant David, however, and that night, David favors Steve, worrying aloud that Anne will spoil his pleasure. She breaks down in tears and tells Steve that David is punishing her by acting loving to him, though she has given up everything for him. After Steve declares that she has helped keep the boy helpless and perverse, he mentions that he believes Bill is innocent, pointing out that she does not trust David and believed he shot the gun to kill Steve. Unwilling to listen, Anne runs off, but when David, who has been listening, begs her to let him sail again, she allows Steve to take the boy out. Weeks later, Steve invites Harvey along on a sailing expedition with David, and the boy grows to trust the doctor. After they then stop at a playground and some boys urge David to throw a football, the boy's appetite increases and he begins to grow strong. Soon, he asks Harvey to examine him, and without telling Anne, Harvey tests David until he is sure there is a possibility of a successful operation. Regardless of the pain and difficulty that await, David is eager to try the surgery. On the way home, Steve takes David sailing again and brings up Bill, but the frightened boy lashes out and knocks Steve into the water. He hesitates, but then tries to save Steve, and is capsized himself. Steve rescues David, but at the hospital, David refuses to speak to him. Steve urges Anne to talk to her son, and she confronts the boy about Steve, advising him to be a man. Finally, David breaks down, confessing to Steve that he lied about Bill, who is then released. Months later, Steve and Anne watch David as he almost wins a race in his own sloop, and with the aid of a cane, walks down the dock to greet them.