“No. That’s not terrible at all.” He stood up straighter and gestured to his boat. “Do you want to come up and talk, then?”
“On your boat?” Harper asked.
“Yes. On my boat. It seems much more civil than talking down to you, doesn’t it?”
Harper glanced toward the end of the dock where her father worked. She had probably ruined his lunch anyway, and Brian could easily grab a hot dog. But she still wasn’t that sure she wanted to hang out on Daniel’s boat with him.
Yes, she wanted to see him, but going up on his boat—it felt like admitting something that she didn’t want to admit.
“Oh, come on.” Daniel leaned over the rail and extended his arm to her.
“Don’t you have like a landing plank or anything?” Harper asked, just staring at his hand.
“Yes, but this is quicker.” He waved his hand at her. “Take my hand and come on.”
Sighing, Harper took his hand. It was strong and rough, the hand of a guy who’d spent his whole life working. He pulled her up easily, as if she weighed nothing. To get her up over the rail, he had to pull her into his arms, and he held her there for a second longer than he needed to.
“Don’t you own a shirt?” Harper asked when she pushed herself back from his bare chest.
He wore only a pair of shorts and flip-flops, and Harper purposely wouldn’t look at him once she’d stepped away from him. She could still feel his skin on hers, warm from the sun beating down on them.
“My shirts have hit you in the face before, remember?” Daniel asked.
“Yeah. Right.” She glanced around the deck, and then, since she had nothing else to do with it, she held out the lunch sack to him. “Here.”
He took the bag from her and opened it. He rooted around inside, finding a smooshed ham sandwich, apple slices, and a pickle.
“Apple slices?” Daniel asked, holding them for her to see. “Is your dad a first-grader?”
“He has high cholesterol,” Harper said defensively. “The doctor wants him to watch what he eats, so I make his lunch.”
Daniel shrugged, as if he either didn’t believe her or didn’t care. Carefully, he took everything out of their plastic Baggies, which was more difficult for the sandwich, since it had been so severely mashed.
Once he was done, he threw all the food out onto the dock and balled up what was left of the garbage.
“Hey!” Harper yelled. “You didn’t need to waste that!”
“I didn’t.” He gestured to the dock, which was now covered in seagulls fighting over the food. “I fed the birds.” Harper still didn’t look pleased, so he laughed.
“Let’s go belowdecks and talk,” Daniel suggested. “It’s cooler down there.”
He went down without waiting for her protests. She paused for a minute, reluctant to follow him. But it was hot outside, and the sun wasn’t making it any better.
When Harper climbed down, she noted that the boat wasn’t dirty so much as messy, and that surprised her. He did have stuff strewn all about, but that was in large part because it was such a small space he didn’t really have places to put anything.
“Have a seat.” He gestured around him.
His bed was the most cleared-off spot, but she didn’t want to give him the wrong idea. She leaned against the table instead, preferring to stand.
“Suit yourself.” Daniel sat on the bed and crossed his arms over his chest. “What did you want to talk about?”
“Uh…” Harper was at a loss for words because she didn’t really know what she wanted to talk about. All she knew was that she’d wanted to talk to him. It didn’t matter what it was about.
“Gemma hasn’t been around lately, if that’s what you’re wondering,” Daniel said, and she was grateful that he’d brought up an actual topic so she wasn’t left gaping at him.
“Good. She’s not supposed to be going anywhere, since she’s grounded. But that hasn’t really been stopping her.” Harper shook her head.
“So she’s still sneaking out to the bay?” Daniel asked, but he didn’t sound surprised. “You can’t keep that girl away from water. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say she was part fish.”
“I wish she was just going to the bay,” she admitted wearily and leaned back. “That I could deal with. But I don’t even know what she’s doing anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s so bizarre. Those girls came over last night to get her, and—”
“What girls?” Daniel asked. “You mean Penn?”
“Yeah.” She nodded. “They came to get her, and I told them to get lost. But Gemma insisted on going with them. She pushed right past me, and then they just left.”
“She willingly went with them?” His eyes widened. “I thought she was afraid of them.”
“I know! So did I!”
“So what happened?” Daniel asked. “Did she come home last night?”
“Yeah, she came back a few hours later.” Her face scrunched in confusion, and she shook her head. “But it doesn’t make any sense. She’d left the house in shorts and a tank top, and she came back in a dress I’d never seen before, and she was soaking wet. I asked what she’d done, but she wouldn’t tell me.”
“At least she came home okay,” he said.
“Yeah.” Harper sighed, thinking. “She didn’t come home right away. She stopped at Alex’s first—that’s the neighbor kid, and he’s her sorta boyfriend, I think. I asked him if he knows what’s going on, and he says he doesn’t. I believe him, but I don’t know if I should.”
“I’m sorry,” Daniel said, and Harper looked up, surprised to see that he meant it. “I know that it’s hard having someone you care about doing reckless things. But it’s not your fault.”
“I know.” She lowered her eyes. “And it doesn’t feel like my fault, but … I have to protect her.”
“You can’t, though.” Daniel leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees. “You can’t protect people from themselves.”
“But I have to try. She’s my sister.”
Daniel licked his lips and lowered his eyes. When he wrung his hands together, a thick silver band on his thumb caught the light. He didn’t say anything for a moment, and Harper could see he was struggling with something.