“I hadn’t planned on making a habit out of it.”
“Good.” Harper shifted her weight, still trying to look indignant. “I think she’s seeing someone anyway.”
“Harper, I already told you, I’m not into your sister.” Daniel smirked. “But if I didn’t know any better, I would say you were jealous.”
“Oh, please.” Harper wrinkled her nose. “Don’t be disgusting.”
Daniel laughed at her protests, and for some reason, Harper began to blush.
Gemma sped past her on her bike, shouting a good-bye to Daniel as she did. With her sister gone, Harper didn’t really have any reason to wait around on the dock, but she stayed behind for a moment, trying to think of something to snap at Daniel for. When she couldn’t come up with anything, she turned and left, acutely aware that he was watching her walk away.
Capri had been founded by Thomas Thermopolis in southeastern Maryland on June 14, 1802, so every fourteenth of June the town held a celebration in his honor. Most of the stores in town closed for it, as they would for any other major holiday. It had become nothing more than a big picnic with a few rides and concessions, but everybody turned out, both the townies and the tourists alike.
Alex had invited Gemma to go with him, and she didn’t know exactly what that meant. Since he had invited just her and not Harper, too, she was inclined to think it meant something, but she was too afraid to ask.
The car ride was awkward, almost comically so. Neither of them really said anything, aside from Alex stammering out a few comments about how he hoped they would have fun.
When they parked, he ran around the car to open the door for her, and that was actually when Gemma started to relax. He’d never opened the door for her before. Something had definitely changed.
The Founder’s Day Picnic took place in the park in the center of town. A couple rides were set up, like the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Zipper. The midway cut through the center, lined with the usual carnival games. Picnic tables and blankets were spread out over the rest of the area, broken up by a few food and drink stands.
“Did you want to play a game?” Alex asked Gemma as they walked down the midway. He gestured to the ring toss next to them. “I could win you a goldfish.”
“I don’t think that’d be fair to the goldfish,” Gemma said. “I’ve had about a dozen of them, and they all seem to die within days of me getting them.”
“Oh, yeah.” Alex smiled crookedly. “I remember you making your dad bury them out in the backyard.”
“They were my pets, and they deserved a proper burial.”
“I better be careful around you.” Alex stepped back from her cautiously, giving her a wide berth. “You’re a goldfish mass murderer. I don’t know what you’re capable of.”
“Stop!” Gemma laughed. “I didn’t kill them on purpose! I was little. I think I overfed them. Out of love, though.”
“That’s even scarier,” he teased. “Do you plan to kill me with kindness?”
“Maybe.” She narrowed her eyes at him and tried to look menacing, making him laugh.
Alex walked close to her again. His hand brushed against hers, and Gemma took the opportunity to slip her fingers through his. He didn’t comment on it, but he gave her hand the slightest squeeze. Warm tingles swirled inside her, and Gemma tried not to smile too widely at the effect from that simple touch.
“So goldfish are out,” Alex said. “What about teddy bears? Would stuffed animals be safe around you?”
“Probably,” she allowed. “But you don’t need to win me anything.”
“You want to walk around for a while?” Alex asked, looking down at her.
“Yeah.” She nodded, and he smiled.
“Okay. But if you want anything, just say the word, and I’m on it. I’ll win you anything your heart desires.”
Gemma didn’t want him to win her anything because that meant he would have to stop to play a game and let go of her hand. She was content to walk around all day with him. Just being with him delighted her in a way she hadn’t thought possible.
They’d walked a little farther down the midway when they came across Bernie McAllister. He stood in front of the game where the object was to pop balloons with a dart to win a prize. Despite the heat, he wore a sweater, and he squinted at the balloons below his gray eyebrows.
“Mr. McAllister.” Gemma smiled and stopped when they got close to him. “What brings you here to the mainland?”
“Oh, you know,” he said, his voice lilting with a faded British accent. He pointed to the balloons with his plastic darts. “I’ve been coming to the Founder’s Day Picnic for fifty-four years and winning cheap junk from these games. I wasn’t about to miss this one.”
“I see.” Gemma laughed.
“And what about you, Miss Fisher?” Bernie asked, looking at Alex and then back at her. “Does your father know you’re out with a boy?”
“Yeah, he knows,” Gemma assured him and squeezed Alex’s hand.
“He better.” Bernie gave them a stern look until Alex lowered his eyes. “I still remember when you were this big”—he held his hand up to his knee—“and you thought boys were gross.” He paused to appraise her and smile. “You kids grow up so fast.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to.”
“It’s how it goes.” He waved his hand, brushing off her apology. “How is your father? Is he here?”
“No, he’s at home today.” Gemma’s smile faltered. Her father rarely came out to stuff like this anymore, not since her mom’s car accident. “He’s doing good, though.”
“Good. Your father’s a fine man, a real hard worker.” Bernie nodded. “It’s been too long since I’ve seen him.”
“I’ll tell him you said that,” Gemma said. “Maybe he’ll head out to the island and visit you.”
“I would like that.” Bernie held her eyes when he smiled, his own eyes filmy with cataracts and a little sad. Then he shook his head and turned back to the game. “Anyway, I should let you kids get back to your fun.”
“All right, good luck at your game,” Gemma said as she and Alex started walking away. “It was nice seeing you.”
When they’d gotten far enough away from him, Alex asked her, “That was Bernie from Bernie’s Island, right?”