“You don’t have to check up on me, you know.”
“You went out fifteen minutes ago to take out the garbage.” Brian leaned against the counter. “I was simply making sure you hadn’t been kidnapped or attacked by rabid raccoons.”
“Well, I wasn’t.” Gemma stopped moving and took a deep breath.
“Do you want to tell me what was going on out there?”
Her eyes widened. “No!”
“Look, Gemma, I know you’re sixteen, and you’re going to start dating.” He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “And Alex isn’t a bad kid, exactly. But he’s older, and you’re too young for certain things—”
“Dad, we just kissed. Okay?” Gemma’s face pinched with discomfort over discussing the topic with her father.
“So you’re … seeing him now?” Brian asked carefully.
“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “We just kissed.”
“And that’s all you should do,” Brian said. “He’s leaving in a couple months, and you’re too young to really commit to anything. Plus you have your swimming to focus on.”
“Dad, please,” Gemma said. “Let me figure this out on my own. Okay?”
“Okay,” he said reluctantly. “But if he touches you, I’ll kill him. And if he hurts you, I’ll kill him.”
“Does he know that?” Brian gestured toward Alex’s house next door. “Because I can go over and tell him that myself.”
“No, Dad!” Gemma held up her hands. “I’ve got it. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go to bed so I can get up early tomorrow to swim.”
“Tomorrow’s Sunday. The pool’s closed.”
“I’ll go out to the bay. I skipped tonight, and I want to be in the water.”
Brian nodded, letting the conversation go, and Gemma hurried up to her room. The light shone from beneath Harper’s bedroom door, signaling she was still up, probably reading a book. Gemma snuck into her own room quietly, so as not to alert her sister.
From her bedroom window, Harper might have been able to see Gemma and Alex kiss, or she might’ve overheard Gemma and her dad talking about it. And the last thing Gemma wanted to do was rehash it with Harper, especially when she had no idea how she felt about it herself.
Gemma flopped back on the bed. Plastic stars were stuck to her ceiling, and only a couple of them still managed a dim glow. She stared at them, smiling because they reminded her of Alex.
Harper had been the one to put the stars up when Gemma had been eight and suffered from serious night terrors. Alex had helped, though, mapping out the constellations with as much accuracy as he could manage.
It was so weird thinking of him now. Gemma had been used to having him around as a nerdy friend of her sister’s. But now when she thought of him, her heart beat faster and a warm feeling grew from her belly.
Her lips still tingled from his kiss, and she wondered when she’d be able to kiss him again. She stayed up late, replaying their moments under the stars over and over in her head. When she finally fell asleep, she did so with a smile on her face.
The alarm next to her bed jolted her awake in the morning. The sun was just starting to rise, shining bright orange through her curtains. The snooze button was tempting, but she’d already missed a full day of swimming, so she really had to make up for it.
By the time Gemma was up and ready, the whole town of Capri was bathed in warm sunlight. Both Harper and her dad were still asleep, and she left them a note on the fridge reminding them she’d gone to Anthemusa Bay.
She blasted Lady Gaga on her iPod and hopped on her bike. It was still early, so the rest of the town was asleep. Gemma liked it better that way, when the streets weren’t filled to the brim with tourists.
The trip to the bay seemed to go more quickly than normal. Pedaling seemed easier. Gemma felt like she was floating on a cloud. One simple kiss from Alex had somehow made the whole world lighter.
Since she rode her bike, she couldn’t swim at the spot with the cypress trees like she usually did. Her bike couldn’t make it up the path, and there was no place for her to lock it up. Instead, she went down to the docks near where her father worked.
Technically, people weren’t supposed to swim there, since it was dangerous, with all the boats, but she didn’t plan to actually swim there. After she locked up her bike, she would dive in and swim out where it was safer. Nobody was really out this early to catch her anyway.
Gemma parked her bike next to a post on the dock. Once she’d stripped down to her bathing suit, she shoved her jean shorts, tank top, and flip-flops in the backpack she’d brought with her. She looped the bike chain through the backpack’s straps and secured it with the bike, locking everything up tightly.
She ran to the end of the dock and dove in. The morning air still had a chill to it, and the water was a tad icy, but Gemma didn’t mind. It didn’t really matter what the temperature was or what the water was like. Gemma never felt more at home than when she was in the water.
She spent as much time swimming as she could, but by late morning the bay had started to get crowded. It was shaping up to be a beautiful warm day, so the beach was full. The water closer to the dock had filled up with boats heading out to sea, and Gemma knew she had to head back in or risk getting run over with a propeller.
The ladder at the end of the dock was missing a few rungs, so she struggled to pull herself up. She was just about to hoist herself over the end of the dock when somebody stuck a hand in her face. The nails were long and manicured, painted bloodred, and the skin smelled of coconuts.
With salty water dripping down her face, Gemma looked up to see Penn standing right in front of her, her hand outstretched toward Gemma.
“Need a hand?” Penn asked, smiling in a way that reminded Gemma of a hungry animal.
Penn was the closest to Gemma, but the other two girls stood right behind her. Gemma had never been this near to Penn before, and her beauty was even more intimidating up close. Penn was flawless. She looked like an airbrushed model on the cover of Maxim.
“Did you need help?” Penn asked more clearly, as if she thought Gemma were deaf since she hadn’t done anything except gape at her.
“No, I’m okay.” Gemma shook her head.
“Suit yourself.” Penn shrugged and moved back so Gemma could climb up.
Gemma had hoped for something more graceful since she’d declined help, but with the top rung on the ladder missing, all she managed was a flop onto the dock. Gemma was acutely aware that she probably looked like a fish flapping about, and she got to her feet as quickly as she could.