“It doesn’t matter.” She shook her head. “I needed to know … do you like me?”
“Do I like you?” His worry changed to bemused relief, and he smiled crookedly at her. “Come on, Gemma, I think you know the answer to that.”
“No, Alex, I’m serious. I need to know.”
“Yeah.” He brushed back a damp lock from her forehead, and his eyes were solemn. “I like you. A lot, actually.”
“Why?” Her voice cracked when she asked that, and she almost wished she hadn’t said anything.
His admission had made her stomach swirl with butterflies and her heart soar, but then both her heart and her stomach clenched with fear. She wasn’t certain that Alex would know why he liked her.
If he was under the spell of the siren, he’d only know that he lusted after her, with no discernible reason for it.
“Why?” Alex laughed at that. “What do you mean, why?”
“It’s important to me,” she insisted, and something in her expression convinced him how grave this was.
“Um, because.” He shrugged, finding it hard to find the words. “You’re so … so pretty.” Her heart dropped at that, but he went on, “And you have a wicked sense of humor. You’re sweet, and you’re smart. And impossibly driven. I’ve never met anybody as determined as you. Anything you want, you’ll get. You are way, way too cool for me, and you still let me hold your hand, even when we’re in public.”
“You like me for me?” Gemma asked, staring up at him.
“Yeah, of course. Why else would I like you?” Alex asked. “What? Did I say something wrong? You look like you’re going to cry.”
“No, you said everything just right.” She smiled up at him, tears swimming in her eyes.
She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him. Tentatively, he wrapped his arms around her, and as she kissed him more deeply, he lifted her off the ground. Her arms were around his neck, and she was practically clinging to him.
“Gemma!” Harper shouted from her bedroom window, and Gemma’s heart sank when she realized they’d been spotted.
Alex put her back on the ground, but they were slow to untangle from each other. His forehead rested against hers, and she kept her hand on the back of his neck, burying her fingers in his hair.
“Promise me you’ll remember this,” Gemma whispered.
“What?” Alex asked, confused.
“Me, as I am right now. The real me.”
“How could I ever forget you?”
Before Alex could ask anything else, Gemma left, running over to her house without looking back.
The Dirty Gull
Harper chewed her lip and stared at The Dirty Gull. Her father’s crumpled lunch sack in her hand, she’d been pacing the dock in front of Daniel’s boat for the past few minutes. This had never happened before, and she didn’t know what to do.
Nearly every time she took her father his lunch, Daniel would inevitably be outside in some capacity so she’d run into him. Every other time it had happened, she’d tried to avoid him, but now that she actually wanted to see him, he wasn’t out here.
He didn’t exactly have a front door, so she couldn’t knock, and it seemed too dramatic to stand on the dock shouting his name. Harper supposed she could climb onto the boat, but that seemed awfully presumptuous.
In truth, she didn’t even really know why she wanted to see him. Part of it was because everything was so messed up with Gemma, and Harper couldn’t talk to her or Alex about it. Those were the people she usually went to with her problems, since Marcy wasn’t exactly known for her listening skills.
That sounded so horrible. Harper wanted to see Daniel because she had nobody else to dump her problems on.
But then Harper realized that wasn’t exactly true, either. She didn’t want to vent to Daniel. That was just an excuse. She wanted to see him just because … she wanted to see him.
Her stomach twisted in knots, and she decided to simply move on. She needed to bring her dad his lunch, and she didn’t have time for Daniel. It’d be better if she just left.
“So that’s it, then?” Daniel asked as soon as Harper started walking away.
“What?” She stopped short and turned back to his boat, but she didn’t see him. She spun around, thinking he must be on the dock, but he wasn’t anywhere. Confused, she turned to his boat again. “Daniel?”
“Harper.” He stepped out from the cabin’s shadowy doorway and onto the deck. “I’ve been standing there watching you go ’round and ’round on the deck, and after all the debate, you’re just going to leave?”
“I…” Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment when she realized that Daniel must’ve been standing just inside the door, where she couldn’t see him but he could see her. “If you saw me, why didn’t you say anything?”
“It was too much fun watching you.” He grinned broadly and leaned against the railing, resting his elbows on the bar. “You were like a little windup toy.”
“Nobody has windup toys anymore,” Harper argued lamely.
“So. What brings you out here?” Daniel propped his chin up on his hand.
“I was bringing my dad his lunch.” She held up the crumpled brown paper sack.
As she waited, she had been unrolling and rerolling the bag about a dozen times. By now the sandwich at the bottom had to be completely smashed.
“Yes, I can see that. I hope he didn’t have anything in there that he might actually want, because it all has to look like baby food at this point.”
“Oh.” Harper looked down at the bag and sighed. “I’m sure it’s fine. He eats anything.”
“Or maybe he can just get something at the dock,” Daniel suggested. “They have a hot dog stand right by the boats. Your dad can get a lunch for under three dollars when he forgets his lunch.” He paused and tilted his head. “But you already knew that, didn’t you?”
“Three dollars here and there adds up, especially as often as he forgets his lunch,” Harper explained.
“Not to mention you wouldn’t get to see me.”
“I wasn’t…” She trailed off, since she’d obviously been waiting for him today. “That isn’t why. I do bring his food out to save him money. Okay, so today, this one time, I was hoping to run into you, but is that so terrible?”