Since Gemma had ridden her bike last night, Harper went down to the docks where Gemma usually parked it. She raced down the worn wooden planks, praying the bike wasn’t there. If it was gone, it meant Gemma had left, that she’d gone somewhere else.
As soon as she saw the bike, all locked up with Gemma’s backpack, her heart dropped. Gemma was still out in that water, as she had been for the past eight or nine hours.
Harper whirled around and found The Dirty Gull moored in the same spot as always, just a few feet down from where Gemma had locked up her bike.
“Daniel!” Harper shouted and ran over to his boat. “Daniel!” She reached out for the railing and tried to climb up. “Daniel!”
“Harper?” Daniel called. He opened the cabin door and stepped out, buttoning up the pair of jeans he’d just pulled on.
Harper was trying to pull herself up over the railing, but the boat was too far away from the dock. Her foot slipped off the edge, and one of her flip-flops fell off and splashed into the water. She would’ve fallen in right after it if Daniel hadn’t come over and grabbed her arm.
He wrapped a strong arm around her shoulders and lifted her up, pulling her over the railing. To do that, he had to press her against his bare chest. Harper was cold from her panic and the morning air, and his skin felt warm against her.
“What are you doing here?” Daniel asked when he released her.
“Is Gemma here?” Harper asked, but by the confused expression on his face, she already knew the answer.
“No.” He shook his head, and his brow furrowed with worry. “Why would she be here?”
“She didn’t come home last night. And…” Harper pointed at the bike chained to the dock. “Her bike’s still here, and she has swim practice in two hours. Gemma never misses practice.” A shudder ran over her body, and her stomach lurched. “Something’s wrong.”
“I’ll help you find her,” Daniel said. “Let me go grab a shirt and shoes.”
“No.” She shook her head. “I don’t have time to wait.”
“You’re obviously crazy with worry.” He gestured to her as she stood trembling on his boat. “You need someone with a clearer head. I’m going with you.”
Harper thought about arguing with that, but she just nodded. The urge to panic was all but taking over, and it was hard for her to keep from sobbing. She did need somebody less frantic to help her.
Daniel went belowdecks and came back up a minute later. A minute that felt like hours to Harper. Hours she spent staring out at the dark sea around them, wondering if Gemma’s body was floating out in it somewhere.
“Okay,” he said as he pulled a T-shirt over his head. “Let’s go.”
He jumped onto the dock first, then took Harper’s hand to help her off the boat. When he’d fished her flip-flip out of the water, she’d protested, but Daniel insisted that it would slow her down if she had to hobble around without it.
“Where do you want to look?” Daniel asked as they walked up the dock, back toward land.
“I think we need to check the shore.” She swallowed hard, realizing what she was suggesting. “She may have washed up…”
“Is there a certain part that she likes more?” Daniel asked. “Maybe somewhere she would have gone to rest if she got too tired for the ride home?”
“I don’t know.” Harper shook her head and shrugged. “I thought she might’ve gone to your boat, since she trusts you. But … I don’t know. I have no idea what she could’ve been doing out all night on the water.
“Well, I do have ideas.” She sniffled and rubbed her forehead. “The only things I can think of aren’t pretty, though. She has no good reason to be out here. Gemma would only stay if something bad happened or if somebody hurt her.”
“Hey.” Daniel touched her arm, causing Harper to look up at him. “We’ll find her, okay? Just think about places she would go if everything was all right. What does Gemma do out here? Where does she go?”
“I don’t know!” Harper repeated, exasperated and terrified. She looked away from him and out at the bay, trying to think. “She loves coming out here to swim at night. She likes to go out past that rock over there.”
She pointed to a huge rock in the water on the other side of the bay. Harper and Gemma had had a few races to that rock, with Gemma always coming out the winner.
“She likes the other side of the bay more?” Daniel asked.
“Kind of,” Harper admitted. “Tourists and boats don’t go out there because of all the rocks, and she likes how deserted it is.”
“So if she was going to take a break, it would be over there.”
“Yes!” She nodded excitedly, realizing what that meant. “When she drives, she parks over there, by the cypress trees.”
It would be faster to drive over there than to walk, so Harper ran back out to her car, with Daniel close behind. To get around the bay, Harper drove as fast as she could, which meant running a few stop signs and cutting across the grass.
Once she got to the beach, she was grateful that Daniel had rescued her flip-flop. The shore was covered in sharp rocks, and it would’ve been nearly impossible to navigate barefoot. Or at least it would’ve been for her. Harper knew the rocks would not have intimidated Gemma.
She made it out to the edge of the shore, past the trees, so she could have a clear view of the coastline all the way down to the cove. Daniel came up behind her and pointed to a blob of black a ways down.
“What’s that?” he asked, but Harper didn’t wait to answer.
She went so fast she tripped on the rocks a few times and fell once, tearing open her knee. Daniel followed her as quickly as he could, but he moved at a more cautious pace.
When she was close enough that she could tell for sure, Harper started calling out Gemma’s name. She could see it was her sister, lying on her back and tangled in something that resembled a gold fishing net. But Gemma didn’t respond.
“Gemma!” Harper screamed and collapsed next to her sister, ignoring the rocks stinging her skin. “Gemma, wake up!”
“Is she alive?” Daniel asked, standing behind Harper and staring down at Gemma.
It really didn’t look good. Gemma’s skin was drained of color, so she looked almost blue. Bruises and scratches covered her arms, and blood had dried on her temple. Her lips were chapped and dry, and seaweed entangled her hair.