“Are you sure?” Gemma asked. “I’m wet.”
“Nah, it’s fine. It’s a boat. Everything’s always wet.” He grabbed a couple of towels and tossed one to her. “There you go.”
“Thank you.” She ran the towel through her hair and sat back on his bed. “And I don’t mean just for this. Thank you for … well, rescuing me, I guess.”
“It was no problem.” Daniel shrugged and leaned against his kitchen table. He wiped a towel over his chest, then ran a hand through his short hair, messing it up and spraying salt water. “You looked so terrified.”
“I wasn’t terrified,” Gemma said defensively.
“I wouldn’t blame you if you were.” He leaned farther back, looking out one of the cabin windows behind him. “Those girls give me the creeps.”
“That’s what I said!” Gemma shouted, excited to hear someone agree with her. “My sister told me that I was being mean.”
“Harper?” Daniel looked back at Gemma. “She likes those girls?”
“I don’t think she likes them, exactly.” Gemma shook her head. “She thinks I should be respectful of everyone.”
“Well, that is a good philosophy.” He reached over and opened the mini-fridge. “Want a soda?”
After Daniel grabbed two cans of grape soda, he handed one to Gemma and kept one for himself. He sat on the table and crossed his legs underneath him. Gemma wrapped her towel around her shoulders and opened the soda.
She looked around the cabin, checking out his bare furnishings. “How long have you lived here?”
“Too long,” he said after taking a long swallow of his soda.
“I think I’d like to live on a boat someday. But like a houseboat.”
“I would definitely recommend living on something larger, if you can.” Daniel gestured to the tight space. “And it can be a bit rough staying out here when the sea gets choppy. I’ve been out here so long, though, I doubt I could even sleep on land. I need the water to rock me to sleep.”
“That would be nice.” She smiled wistfully as she imagined sleeping on the bay. “Did you always love the ocean?”
“Uh … I don’t know.” Daniel crinkled his brow as if he hadn’t thought of it before. “I guess I’ve always liked it.”
“How did you end up living on a boat, then?”
“It’s not very romantic,” he warned her. “My grandpa died and left me this boat. I got evicted from my apartment and needed a place to crash. And here we are.”
“Gemma!” Someone shouted from outside the boat, and Daniel and Gemma exchanged a confused look. “Gemma!”
“Is that your sister?” Daniel asked.
“I think so.” Gemma set down her can and headed out to the deck to see what Harper was carrying on about.
Harper stood on the dock next to Gemma’s bike holding the bike chain in her hand. Her dark hair was in a ponytail, which swung back and forth as she looked around frantically.
“Gemma!” Harper yelled again, the tremor in her voice betraying her fear.
Gemma went over to the railing and looked down at her sister. “Harper?”
“Gemma!” Harper turned to face her, relief washing over her until she saw Daniel standing on the boat behind her. “Gemma! What are you doing?”
“I was just drying off,” Gemma said. “Why are you freaking out so bad?”
“I came to see if you were coming home for lunch, and I found your bike chain unhooked on the dock, like something happened when you were locking it up, and I couldn’t find you, and now you’re on his boat!” Harper stomped toward Daniel’s boat, clenching the bike chain in her fist. “What were you doing?”
“Drying off,” Gemma repeated, growing annoyed with her sister for making a scene.
“Why?” Harper demanded and pointed at Daniel. “He is bad news!”
“Thanks,” Daniel said wryly, and Harper glared at him.
“Look, I’ll get on my bike, and we’ll go home, and you can be a total spaz there,” Gemma said.
“I am not being a spaz!” Harper shouted, then stopped and took a deep breath. “But you’re right. We will talk about this at home.”
“Yay.” Gemma sighed. She took the towel from around her shoulders and handed it back to Daniel. “Thanks.”
“No problem. And sorry if I got you in trouble.”
“Ditto,” Gemma said, offering him a small, apologetic smile.
Gemma threw her backpack onto the dock, then hopped over the railing after it. She took her chain from Harper, grabbed her bag, and went down to her bike to put her clothes on before she rode home.
“You are a disgusting pervert,” Harper snarled at Daniel and pointed her finger at him. “Gemma is only sixteen years old, and even though you have some sort of Peter Pan complex, you are still a twenty-year-old man. You are too old to be messing around with her.”
“Oh, please.” Daniel rolled his eyes. “She’s just a kid. I wasn’t hitting on her.”
“That is not what it looks like from here.” Harper crossed her arms. “I should report you for living on this stupid boat and for your abhorrent behavior hanging around with underage girls.”
“Do what you gotta do, but I’m not a creep.” He leaned against the railing and looked down at Harper. “Those girls were hassling your sister, and I stepped in to get her away from them.”
“What girls?” Harper asked.
“Those girls.” Daniel waved vaguely. “I think the head one is named Penn or something.”
“The really pretty girls?” Harper tensed up.
She hadn’t thought Daniel had done anything to Gemma, not really, but at the mention of Penn, her stomach tightened.
“I guess.” Daniel shrugged.
“They were messing with Gemma?” She glanced back at Gemma, who was pulling on her tank top and appeared unharmed. “How?”
“I don’t know exactly.” He shook his head. “But they had her surrounded, and she looked scared. I just don’t trust them, and I didn’t want them around her. I asked her on my boat to hide out until they left, and you showed up like ten minutes later. That’s all that happened.”
“Oh.” Harper felt bad for yelling at him now, but she didn’t want to let on. “Well. Thank you for looking out for my sister. But you shouldn’t have her on your boat.”