“He’s not coming,” Anna said, blowing a large pink bubble and popping it with finality.
“He’ll be here,” Kayla said. Her eyes scoured the horizon in search of the white sail with the faded blue line cutting across its center. “He promised.”
Anna kicked at the sand while her stringy brown hair blew around her face. She smacked at the gum in her mouth and readied it for another bubble.
“Don’t blow another one. Your hair will tangle and then Mama will make me get it out,” Kayla said.
Anna rolled her eyes and returned to her chewing. “How much longer do we have to wait? I’m supposed to go to Abbey’s house tonight.”
“Nobody forced you to tag along. I’m six years older than you, so be thankful I even let you come.”
“Only reason you let me is so I wouldn’t tell Mama,” Anna said, plopping onto her rear just out of reach of the incoming ocean. “What’s so special about this guy, anyway?”
“You’ll know when you see him. But you’ll have to hide when he gets close. He made me swear to come alone. If you duck under the dock you can get a good look at him and he won’t know you’re with me.”
“Mama says you can’t date until you’re thirty. You’re only sixteen. She’s gonna be real mad when she finds out.”
“Only way she’s going to find out is if someone tells her.” Kayla stopped watching the water long enough to shoot narrow eyes at her little sister. “And no one is going to do that, right?”
Anna looked back at her defiantly. “Can I take your tablet to Abbey’s tonight?”
Kayla’s jaw dropped. “The deal was I let you come with me to meet Shane and you would keep your mouth shut! You can’t change the terms now!”
Anna shrugged and grinned. “Guess I’ve got something to talk about with Mama on the ride to Abbey’s house tonight.”
“Fine!” Kayla shouted. “And next time Abbey comes to stay at our house, I’ll let your little friend know about your dirty habit of digging in your nose when you think no one’s looking.”
“Ok, ok,” Anna said. “I don’t see what the big deal is, though. If he’s such a nice guy, why does he want you to keep him a secret?”
“He’s older than me. A lot of people don’t like it when an older guy dates a younger girl. He says I’m really mature for my age, which is why the boys at school don’t realize how pretty I am. They’re too small minded for a girl like me.”
“Sounds like a creeper,” Anna said. “Mama says we shouldn’t talk to grown men because they might be creepers.”
“He’s not a creeper,” Kayla said through gritted teeth. The wind picked up again, tossing her blonde curls around her shoulders. “He’s a really good guy who just happens to see me for who I am. It’s not his fault that he was born before me.”
“Where’d you meet him anyway?”
“Online in a Facebook group,” Kayla said, turning her attention back to the waves. “I think that’s his boat!”
Anna looked at the ocean and could see a sailboat in the distance. It bounced across the water at a crawl. A man in a yellow life vest stood near the rear, though he was too far away to clearly assess his features. “The one with the blue stripe on the sail?” she asked.
“Yes, now hide! If he sees you, he might not stop.”
Anna scurried under the dock and hid behind one of the large wooden supports. The ocean lapped against her toes. She listened as the boat slid against the dock and footsteps thundered over her head.
“Shane?” her sister asked in a sweet, sing-song voice.
“Hey, Kayla,” a deep male voice answered.
Anna peeked from behind the post and watched as the man in the life vest wrapped his large, tanned arms around her sister.
“I was starting to think you weren’t going to show up,” Kayla laughed.
“I promised I would be here. I never break a promise,” he replied. “You didn’t tell anyone you were coming, right? I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
“Of course I didn’t. And I deleted all of our messages like you suggested. I wouldn’t have even thought of that. I made sure I cleared the pictures of you and the boat from the temp files, too.”
“Just looking out for you,” he said through a smile. “How long do we have before you have to go home?”
“I told my mom I was going to the beach with my friends and I wouldn’t be home till after dinner, so I’ve got—“
“You told her you were going to the beach?” he interrupted. His smile dropped. “Why’d you do that? Now she knows where you are. What if she comes looking for you and sees us? You would be in so much trouble if she finds out!”
Kayla’s eyes filled with tears. “You’re right. I’m such an idiot. Maybe I should just go home and we can try to meet up another day.”
“No, no. It’s probably fine. Just be more careful next time, ok?” He brushed the curls away from Kayla’s face. “You should really wear your hair back. Your face is too pretty to keep covered.”
Kayla blushed. “Next time? So you want to see me again?”
“Of course I do, beautiful. You’re the most incredible woman I’ve ever met.”
Anna watched as he leaned in and kissed her sister. It made her stomach knot. The man looked old enough to be their father, and even if Kayla was mature for her age, she definitely wasn’t a woman.
She still sleeps with a night light! Anna thought.
“Did you want to go out on the boat?” he asked as he pulled back. “I brought an extra life jacket, just in case. Just a quick spin since you don’t have much time.”
“Really?” Kayla asked with wide eyes. “That would be so cool!”
“I thought you might like that.” He reached into his pockets and pulled out a black wallet. From it, he produced two twenty-dollar bills. “Walk a little ways down the beach and grab us some hot dogs and sodas from the vendor. I’ll get the boat ready to push off.”
Kayla eyed the dock where she knew her sister remained hidden. “I’m not really hungry,” she said, shuffling her feet.
“If you don’t want to go out on the boat, we don’t have to,” he said, pulling the money back. “We can just go to the hot dog stand and eat together while the sun sets.”
She hesitated, pulled her eyes away from the dock, and reached for the cash. “No, it’s fine. I can run grab some food for us. I was just afraid I might get seasick. I’ve never been on a sailboat before.”
“Don’t you worry about that. Just grab us some food and meet me at the boat. Three hot dogs should be enough.”
Kayla took one more look at the dock before trotting down the beach in the direction of the vendor.
“You can come out now,” the man said when Kayla was out of earshot.
Anna eased from behind the post. “You knew I was there the whole time?” she asked.
“Of course I did. Figured you might want to go on the boat ride with me and my friend. That’s why I told her to get us three hot dogs. Is your mom around? We can go ask her if it’s ok.”
“No, she’s not here.”
He eyed the empty beach. “That’s too bad. She might not like it if we went without telling her. Maybe next time I can take you with us and show you how to drive the boat.”
Anna considered this. Kayla never let her hang out and do cool stuff when she was with her friends. This was her big chance. “I think it’s ok. She won’t mind as long as I’m back before dark.”
“You sure?” he asked.
She nodded with a wide grin, showcasing her missing tooth. “Yeah, I’m sure!”
“Let’s go get the boat ready while we wait on my friend. I think I’ve got another life jacket that should fit you.”
“I’m a real good swimmer if you don’t,” Anna said, forming her slender arm to showcase a small bulge of muscle.
“Can’t risk anything bad happening to that cute little button nose of yours,” he said, taking his large hands and brushing the little girl’s hair behind her ears. She grinned up at him and followed him across the dock.
“Sorry it took so long!” Kayla shouted as she neared the dock, her voice barely carrying over the sound of the waves against the shore. “The line at the stand was really long. Here’s your change.”
She dropped the hotdogs and canned drinks in the sand. Shane and his boat were gone. And so was her sister. “Anna!” she screamed. But the ocean swallowed the sound.