“I’m fine,” Gemma said, and started backing toward the door. “But I should probably head back. Long swim.”
“Gemma.” He stopped her and stepped away from the counter, closer to her. “Did I ever tell you about when my brother died?”
“It was a boat accident, wasn’t it?” she asked.
Daniel nodded. “He got drunk even though I had told him to stop drinking. He took a boat out when I asked him not to. And he crashed when I told him to slow down.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, sounding unsure of what else to say.
“I can forgive myself for that. He made all those choices to drink and drive a boat, and I’ve learned to accept his choices as best I can. He knew what he was doing, and I tried my hardest to talk him out of it. But he was five years older than me and wasn’t about to let me tell him what to do.
“But the part I can’t forgive myself for, the part that still haunts me, is that I didn’t find him,” he went on. “After the boat crashed, he was lost in the bay, and I went in after him, but I never found him.” He’d walked up so he was right in front of her, and she stared up at him.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because I should’ve been able to save him, and it might not make sense, but I feel like I didn’t do everything I could. Anything short of staying in that water until I died doesn’t feel like enough.”
“If he’d died, your dying wouldn’t have brought him back,” Gemma told him.
“I know. Logically, I know,” he admitted. “But that’s not how it feels at night when I’m lying awake.”
“You can’t blame yourself for his death.”
“I’ve had plenty of therapy about John’s death, and that’s not why I brought it up.”
“Then why did you?”
“Because I know that something’s going on with you, and I don’t know what it is,” Daniel said. “But I don’t want to find you dead and know that I didn’t do everything I could to save you.”
“Daniel, you won’t find me dead, and you’ve done absolutely everything you can. You’ve done so much more than you ever needed to.”
She stood on her tiptoes so she could lean in and kiss him on the cheek, then she put her arms around him. He hugged her back as she squeezed tighter, and he kissed the top of her head. Then she stepped back, and when she smiled up at him, there were tears in her eyes.
“I love you. I’m not in love with you, but I do care about you,” Gemma said.
“I care about you, too. An awful lot.”
“I should go, though.” She stepped toward the door. “But please do me a favor and stop worrying so much. Everything is going to be fine, you’ll see.” She smiled and her brown eyes twinkled in a way that almost made him believe her.
Then Gemma turned and ran out the door, racing down the path to the bay. He considered going after her so he could see if she did really swim away using her legs, but he thought he already knew the answer.
Since Brian didn’t have work on Monday because of the holiday, he suggested that they spend the day together as a family. Not just because they’d all been through so much lately, but Harper had to go back to Sundham, and Gemma was set to begin her junior year the next day.
Gemma thought it sounded perfect. After her clandestine visit to Daniel’s yesterday, she’d spent the rest of the afternoon with Alex. So it’d be great to spend the day with her family.
It was the last official day of the summer season, and most things were closing early. It also meant that the tourists were heading out. The At Summer’s End Festival had made the past week the busiest of the year, and now, with the crowds dispersing, it made Capri feel almost like a ghost town. But that was definitely a nice thing.
Gemma, Harper, and their dad took a walk down to the beach, grateful not to wade through kids or suntanning ladies or discarded beer cans. They tried skipping pebbles on the water, which didn’t work at all, but at least it was fun to try.
For lunch, they went to Pearl’s Diner, and they talked and laughed about old times. It wasn’t until then—when they were laughing so hard that Harper couldn’t breathe, and Brian’s face was turning red—that Gemma realized how long it had been since she’d seen either of them so happy.
This summer had weighed on them so heavily, but even before that, her sister and her dad had gotten so caught up in trying to take care of everything that they’d almost forgotten to have fun and be happy.
When they went back home, Brian decided to teach them how to play poker, insisting it would be a useful skill for them in later life. Harper took to the game right away, and it didn’t take long before she’d completely wiped both Gemma and Brian out of the pennies they’d been playing with.
By then, it was starting to get late, so Harper went up to pack her bag to return to college. Gemma was sitting in the living room with her dad, watching an old Rocky movie he’d seen a hundred times before, when something slid through the mail slot in the door.
“What the heck is that?” Brian asked. “We don’t get mail on Labor Day.”
“I’ll get it.” Gemma held up her hand, stopping him before he got out of his chair, and she went over to retrieve a single slip of paper on the floor.
At first, Gemma thought it was a postcard, except it looked so warped and worn. But as soon as she picked it up, she knew exactly what it was.
It was an old photograph of Gemma, Harper, and their mom, taken shortly before the accident when their mom still lived at home. It had been on her bedside table for years, but when Gemma ran away to join the sirens, she’d taken it with her, which was how it’d gotten so damaged. But she’d forgotten it at Sawyer’s house when she escaped.
Gemma turned it over, and on the back in lovely handwriting, a message had been scrawled.
Found this in a junk drawer with Lexi’s old stuff. Thought you might want it back. Thanks for setting me free. —Thea
“What’s that?” Harper asked as she came down the stairs behind her.
“Thea was just returning something I’d lost.” Gemma held it up for Harper to see.
“Did you take that with you when you ran away?” Harper asked.
Gemma nodded as her sister handed the picture back. “I accidentally forgot it, and somehow Thea found it again.”
“That was nice of her to give it back. But I would’ve thought she’d left town by now.”