It was slobbery and far too eager, like he was attempting to devour her face. Then his hands suddenly went crazy, and at first she wasn’t sure if he was trying to feel her up or having a seizure. When she was certain it was the former, she decided to stop seeing him.
He was a nice enough guy, but there wasn’t any physical chemistry between them. To break it off, Harper had told him that she needed to focus on her schoolwork and her family, so she didn’t have time for a relationship. Still, things ended up being awkward between them the next time she ran into him.
That only solidified her views on romance. She didn’t have the time or the need for all that drama.
* * *
Gemma leaned against the edge of the pool and took off her goggles. Coach Levi stood over her, and she could already tell by his expression that she’d beat her time.
“I did it, right?” Gemma asked, smiling up at him.
“You did it,” Coach said.
“I knew it!” She grabbed the edge of the pool and pulled herself up and out of the water. “I could feel it.”
“You did great.” Coach nodded. “Now just imagine how great you’d do if you didn’t waste your energy on those nightly swims.”
Gemma groaned and took off her swim cap, letting her hair fall free. She looked around the empty pool. Nobody else on the swim team practiced during the summer, but then again, nobody trained as hard as she did.
They rarely spoke of it, not in real terms, but both Gemma and the coach had their eyes on the Olympics. The games were years away, but she was determined to be in top form by the time they came around. Coach Levi took her to every meet he could, and she won almost every time.
“It’s not wasted energy.” Gemma stared down at the water that dripped around her feet. “It’s something fun I do. I need to relax.”
“You do,” Coach agreed. He folded his arms across his chest, holding the clipboard to him. “You need to have fun and kick back and be a kid. But you don’t need to be swimming at night.”
“You wouldn’t even know that I was swimming if Harper didn’t narc on me,” Gemma muttered.
“Your sister is worried about you,” Coach said gently. “And I am, too. It’s not about training. The bay is dangerous at night. Another kid went missing just the other week.”
“I know.” Gemma sighed.
She’d already heard about it a dozen times from Harper. A seventeen-year-old boy had been staying at a beach house with his parents. He went out to meet some friends for a bonfire, and he never came back.
That story in itself didn’t sound that bad, but Harper was quick to remind Gemma of the two other boys who had gone missing in the last couple of months. They left one night, and simply didn’t come home.
It was usually after Harper told these stories that she’d run to Brian and start demanding that he keep Gemma home. Brian didn’t, though. Even after everything that had happened with their mom—or maybe because of it—he felt it was more important that the girls have the chance to live their lives.
“You’ve just got to be careful,” Coach told her. “It’s not worth throwing this all away for some stupid mistake.”
“I know,” Gemma said, this time with more conviction. After all the hard work and sacrifice, she wasn’t about to let any of this slip away from her.
“Okay,” Coach said. “But Gemma, that really was a great time today. You should be proud.”
“Thanks. I’ll do even better tomorrow.”
“Don’t push yourself too hard,” Coach said, but he smiled at her.
“All right.” She smiled back and pointed to the locker room behind her. “I’m gonna hit the showers now.”
“Try to do something fun tonight that doesn’t involve water, okay? Expand your horizons beyond the aquatic. It’ll be good for you.”
“Yes, sir.” Gemma saluted him as she walked backward to the lockers, and he laughed.
She showered quickly, mostly just rinsing the chlorine from her hair. All the time in the water should’ve left her with crazy dry skin, but she used baby oil every time she dried off. It was the only thing that prevented her from turning into an alligator.
After she’d gotten dressed, she went out to unlock her bike. The rain had come back, pouring down twice as hard as it had earlier. Gemma flipped the hood up over her head, regretting her decision to ride the bike to practice, when a horn honked behind her.
“Do you need a lift?” Harper asked, rolling down the car window to yell out at her sister.
“What about my bike?” Gemma asked.
“You can get it tomorrow.”
Gemma thought about it for a second before running over and hopping in her sister’s car. She tossed her gym bag in the backseat and buckled up.
“I was on my way home from work, and I thought I’d swing by and see if you needed a ride,” Harper said as she pulled away from the gymnasium. Practice lasted only a couple of hours, but Gemma would usually grab lunch and then hit the weight room. She wasn’t buff, but she needed her body in peak physical condition.
“Thanks.” Gemma turned the vents so the heat would blow directly on her. “The rain gets pretty cold.”
“How was practice today?”
“Good.” Gemma shrugged. “I beat my best time.”
“Really?” Harper sounded genuinely excited and smiled over at her. “That’s amazing! Congratulations!”
“Thank you.” She leaned back in the seat. “Do you know what’s going on tonight?”
“With what?” Harper asked. “Dad’s making a pizza for supper, and I was thinking of going over to Marcy’s to watch this documentary called Hot Coffee. What did you have planned?”
“I don’t know. Nothing. I think I might stay in tonight.”
“You mean like stay in in?” Harper asked. “No midnight swims?”
“Oh.” Harper paused, surprised. “That’ll be nice. Dad will like that.”
“I can stay home if you want,” Harper offered. “I could rent movies to watch together.”
“Nah, that’s okay.” Gemma stared out the car window as Harper drove them home. “I was thinking after supper I might see if Alex wanted to come over to play Red Dead Redemption.”
“Oh.” Harper exhaled deeply, but she didn’t say anything.