“I don’t care what you do.” Harper held up her hands and shrugged.
“Thank you.” Gemma turned on her heel and slammed the bedroom door behind her.
Harper leaned on her doorframe as her father climbed the stairs. He was a tall man with big strong hands, worn from years of working at the dock. Though in his forties, Brian was rather fit, and other than the few gray streaks in his hair, he didn’t look his age.
Stopping in front of Harper’s room, her father crossed his arms and looked down at her. “What was that about?”
“I dunno.” She shrugged and stared down at her toes, noticing the bright blue nail polish had begun to chip.
“You’ve got to stop telling her what to do,” Brian said quietly.
“She’s going to make mistakes, just like you do, but she’ll be okay, just like you are.”
“Why am I the bad guy?” Harper finally lifted her eyes to look up at her father. “Alex is too old for her, and it’s dangerous out there. I’m not being unreasonable.”
“But you’re not her parent,” Brian said. “I am. You have your own life to live. You should be worrying about college this fall. Let me worry about Gemma, okay? I can take care of her.”
“I know.” She sighed.
“Do you?” Brian asked honestly, looking her in the eyes. “I know I’ve let you take on too much since your mom…” He trailed off, letting it hang in the air. “But that doesn’t mean we won’t be okay without you.”
“I know. I’m sorry, Dad.” She forced a smile. “I just worry.”
“Well, try not to, and get some sleep tonight, okay?”
“Okay.” She nodded.
He leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. “Night, sweetie.”
Harper went back into her room, shutting the door behind her. Her father was right, and she knew it, but that didn’t change the way she felt. For good or for bad, Gemma had been Harper’s responsibility for the past nine years. Or, at the very least, Harper had felt responsible.
She sat down on her bed with a heavy sigh. Leaving them would be impossible.
She should be excited about finally getting out on her own, especially considering how hard she’d worked for it. Even with working part-time at the library and volunteering at the animal shelter, Harper had managed to get a 4.0 all through high school.
The scholarship she’d been awarded had opened doors for her that her father’s budget couldn’t. Every college she’d applied to had been eager to have her. She could’ve gone anywhere, but she’d chosen a state school only forty minutes away from Capri.
Peering out through the curtains, Harper could see the light from Alex’s bedroom. She grabbed her phone from her bedside table, meaning to text him, but changed her mind. He’d been her friend for years, and despite the fact that she’d never harbored any romantic feelings for him, his growing flirtation with her younger sister weirded Harper out a bit.
The pipes groaned as Gemma turned on the hot water in the bathroom across the hall. Harper grabbed the blue nail polish so she could touch up her toenails and listened to Gemma sing in the shower, her voice soft like a lullaby.
Harper gave up after one foot and curled up in bed. Within moments of her head hitting the pillow, she was out.
By the time Harper woke up in the morning, her dad was already gone for work, and Gemma was rushing around the kitchen. It never stopped being strange to Harper that, even waking up at seven in the morning, she was the late sleeper in the family.
“I made some hard-boiled eggs this morning,” Gemma said through a mouthful of food. Based on the yellow crumbles coming out of her mouth, it looked like Gemma had just finished off an egg. “I cooked up the whole dozen, so you can have some.”
“Thanks.” Harper yawned as she sat down at the kitchen table.
Gemma stood next to the open dishwasher, quickly downing a glass of orange juice. When she finished, she threw the glass in the dishwasher, next to her dirty plate. She was already dressed in worn jeans and a T-shirt, and her hair had been pulled up into a ponytail.
“I gotta get to swim practice,” Gemma said as she hurried by.
“Why so early?” Harper leaned back in her chair so she could watch through the doorway as Gemma slipped on her shoes. “I thought practice didn’t start until eight.”
“It doesn’t. But my car won’t start, so I’m biking it there.”
“I can give you a ride,” Harper offered.
“Nah, I’m fine.” Gemma grabbed her gym bag and sifted through it, making sure she had everything she needed. She pulled out her iPod and shoved it in the pocket of her jeans.
“You’re not supposed to listen to that when you ride your bike,” Harper reminded her. “You can’t hear oncoming traffic.”
“I’ll be fine.” Gemma ignored her and tossed the earbuds around her neck.
“It’s supposed to rain today,” Harper said.
Gemma grabbed a gray sweatshirt from where it hung on the coatrack, and then she held it up for Harper to see. “Got my hoodie.” Without waiting for Harper to say any more, Gemma turned around and opened the front door. “See you later!”
“Have a good day!” Harper called after her, but the door had already slammed shut behind Gemma.
Harper sat in the kitchen for a few minutes, allowing herself to wake up before the silence annoyed her into action. She put on the stereo so the house felt less empty. Her father always kept the radio set on the classic rock station, and she spent a lot of mornings with Bruce Springsteen.
When she opened the fridge to get some breakfast, she saw the crumpled brown paper bag that contained her father’s lunch. He’d forgotten it. Again. On her own lunch break, she’d have to leave early to take it down to the docks for him.
After she finished eating breakfast, Harper hurried about her morning routine. She cleaned out the fridge, throwing away old leftovers, before starting the dishwasher and taking out the garbage. It was Thursday, and on the brightly colored chore calendar she’d made it said LAUNDRY and BATHROOM in big block letters.
Since laundry took longer, Harper started that first. In the process, she discovered that Gemma must’ve borrowed one of her tops and spilled a chili dog on it. She’d have to remember to have a talk with her about that later.
The bathroom was always a pain to clean. The shower drain was always filled with a disproportionate amount of Gemma’s golden brown hair. Since Harper’s hair was darker, coarser, and longer, she’d expect to see more of it, but it was always Gemma’s clogging up the pipes.