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tidal Page 23

Then she opened her mouth wide and drove her jagged fangs into his flesh.

  It wasn’t until later, after the frenzy had faded and she sat in the pool of Bastian’s blood with his corpse next to her, that she realized exactly what she’d done.

  “Bastian,” she said, as tears slid down her cheeks. She crawled over to him and pulled his head onto her lap. It had been mostly left intact throughout her attack, and she cradled his face, brushing back his hair with her bloodstained fingers.

  As she held him, she began to wail.

  THIRTY-TWO

  Departure

  With her bags almost completely packed and sitting on her bed, Harper still couldn’t believe she was doing this. Her stomach was in knots, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that no matter what she did, she was doing the wrong thing.

  She’d hardly slept the night before and woke up at the crack of dawn to begin packing. It wasn’t just her anxiety that made it hard for her to sleep. The heat was broaching on unbearable. The downstairs air conditioner did nothing up here, and her window fan only succeeded in blowing around hot air.

  She pushed through it, though. There was a task at hand she needed to get done, so she just put her hair up in a ponytail and got to it. It was unlike Harper to put things off as long as she had this time, but the truth was that she hadn’t really made a decision about whether she would leave or not.

  As soon as Gemma had gotten up, she’d come over to talk with Harper. They spoke some about their parents’ impending divorce, which Gemma was still having some trouble processing. But most of it was Gemma reassuring Harper that she was doing the right thing, and the world wouldn’t end if she went to school fifty miles away.

  Harper put her hands on her hips and stared down at the bags. All the clothes she planned to bring were neatly folded in her duffel bag and a suitcase, with the clothes she’d decided against scattered across her bed. Her toiletries had been sealed up in a Ziploc bag so they wouldn’t leak, then were put in her duffel bag.

  Her textbooks—all of which she’d ordered online because it was cheaper than getting them through the school—were stacked in a heavy tote next to her desk. Her computer, e-reader, and various chargers were tucked away in her laptop bag.

  Everything was ready to go. Except for her.

  “Hey, there. ” Daniel knocked on her open bedroom door.

  She smiled thinly at him as he stepped inside her room. “Hi. ”

  “You look about all packed. ” Daniel surveyed her room. “Am I late? I thought you told me to come over at ten. ”

  He stood next to her, but he felt oddly distant. There was only a foot between them. When she moved, leaning a bit toward him, he moved away—as if trying to make sure she never got any closer.

  The past few days, something strange had been going on with him. Harper couldn’t explain it exactly, because he’d been saying all the normal things and spending time with her. But something definitely felt off.

  Then again, that could just be her projecting. Her anxiety and indecision about leaving for college had to have some effect on their relationship, especially since he was a part of the reason she wanted to stay behind.

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  “No, you’re right on time,” Harper said, deciding to ignore her concerns about him. He’d come over this morning to help her pack and ride with her to Sundham, so nothing between them could be that off. “I woke up early and got a head start. ”

  “That’s a good thing, right?” Daniel asked.

  “I don’t think I can do this,” Harper blurted out, and the thin veil of sensibility collapsed. “I don’t think I can leave. Everybody keeps telling me that I need to do this and it’s the right thing to do, but it doesn’t feel like the right thing. ”

  “Hold on,” Daniel said, trying to put a stop to her panic before it completely took over. “Calm down a second. You know that no matter what you decide to do, nobody will be mad at you. ”

  “My dad will. ”

  “Okay, besides your dad,” he allowed.

  “I just feel like if I make the wrong decision, I’ll ruin everybody’s life. I don’t want to destroy my future, but I don’t want to destroy Gemma’s, either. ” She stared up at him, her gray eyes large and pleading. “Tell me what to do. ”

  “Harper, I’m not going to tell you what to do. ” He smiled sadly and shook his head. “I can’t. This has to be your decision, no matter what anybody else says or thinks. ”

  “I know, but…” Harper trailed off.

  She knew she couldn’t let anybody else make this decision, and she didn’t really want them to, either. It just felt so impossible to choose. Her heart was being torn in two directions—looking after her sister and her family, or going after the one thing she’d been working for almost her entire life.

  “Let’s forget about Gemma for a second. Let’s forget about her problems, or your dad, or your mom, or even me. Forget all of us. ” Daniel waved his hands, as if erasing everybody from her thoughts. “What do you want to do? What would you want for the rest of your life, if you didn’t have to worry about anybody else?”

  Harper sat back on the bed, carefully wedged between her bags. She stared down at the floor, and for the first time in a long while, she thought about what she really wanted.

  “After the accident, my mom had half a dozen brain surgeries,” Harper said. “And after every one of them, me, my dad, and Gemma would be sitting in the waiting room. The doctor would come in and explain to us what he did and how it went. I remember thinking, Wow. That guy knows everything.

  “He was so calm and collected, and he made me feel calm and like everything would be okay,” she went on. “Or okay-ish, anyway. I would ask him a million questions about my mom and medicine and all sorts of stuff, and he always answered every one of them. And I knew then and there that’s what I wanted to do.

  “I wanted to be him. What he did fascinated me, but more than that, I wanted to have all the answers and be able to save people. My mom is alive because of what he did. ”

  Daniel pushed back the duffel bag, making room for himself, and sat down next to Harper on the bed.

  “Sounds like a good fit for you,” he said.

  “Does it make me a horrible, selfish person if I say that I want to go?” She looked over at him. “That I want to do this?”

  He smiled. “No, it doesn’t. It’s okay to go after your dreams, especially when you’ve worked so hard for them. ”

  “But if I’m not here and something happens to Gemma, I’ll never be able to forgive myself. ”

  “You will be here, Harper,” Daniel said with a laugh. “You keep acting like you’re going off to war. You’ll be right down the highway, and I’m sure you’ll be home more often than you’ll be at school. ”

  “I know, but what if something happens and I’m a half hour away?” Harper asked.

  “Then I’ll be two minutes away, and Marcy will be a second away, and Thea will probably be right with Gemma,” Daniel said. “I’m sure Alex would help if Gemma was in trouble, and we could even enlist your dad. Gemma’s not in this alone, and neither are you. You aren’t taking care of her by yourself. ”

  “I know. ” She licked her lips, and finally Harper made her decision. “Okay. Then I’m going. ” She gave Daniel a hard look. “But you have to promise you’ll watch out for Gemma. ”

  “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said.

  “I know that’s kind of a big thing to ask you, since you’re my boyfriend, and we haven’t been together that long, and it’s not your responsibility,” Harper said, speaking rapidly. “It’s not even really my responsibility, but I just need to know that she’s safe, and I trust you. ”

  “Harper,” Daniel said with a smile, stopping her mid-ramble. “I know. It’s okay. And I would never let anything bad happen to you or Gemma. ”

  “Thank you. ” Harper leaned in, meaning to kiss him, but before she
had the chance, Daniel stood up and took a step away from the bed.

  “Did something happen? Did I do something?” she asked him.

  “No. ” He scratched the back of his head and avoided eye contact with her. “Why would you say that?”

  “It seems like you don’t want to kiss me. ”

  Daniel laughed, but it sounded flat. “Why wouldn’t I want to kiss you?”

  “I don’t know. ” She stared up at him, fearing the worst might be true. “That’s why I’m asking you. ”

  “I just…” He shrugged and paced the room slowly, walking the length of her bed in front of her. “You know, you’re leaving … It’s an emotional time, and I don’t want to make you do things. ”

  “What are you talking about?” Harper asked.

  “There’s just a lot going on. ” He motioned with his hand, making a big circle to represent the “a lot” that was going on.

  Her heart dropped. “Are you breaking up with me?”

  “What?” His eyes shot up, looking startled, and he shook his head. “No, no, God, no. I…”

  She waited a few moments for him to finish his thought, but when he didn’t, she stood up and pressed, “What is it, then?”

  Daniel lowered his eyes. “It’s nothing. ”

  “If something’s happening…” Harper tilted her head, trying to meet his gaze.

  “No. I’m just…” He sighed, and finally he lifted his hazel eyes to meet hers. “I’m going to miss you. ”

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  “I’ll miss you, too. ” She stepped closer to him and put her hands on his chest, and this time he didn’t pull away. “But I’ll still come down for weekends. So we’ll see each other a lot. ”

  “I know,” he said, but there was something pained in his eyes, something more than simply missing her.

  “Is there something else bothering you?” Harper asked. “I feel like you’re holding something back. ”

  “No,” he said. “I’m just thinking about what I’m going to do when you’re gone. ”

  “You’ll get more sleep, and you’ll have more time to work. ” Harper tried to make a joke of it. “That’ll be good, right?”

  “Yeah. It will. ”

  “I’ll probably call and text you so much you won’t even notice I’m gone. ”

  “No, I’ll definitely notice. ” Daniel put his arm around her waist, his hand strong on the small of her back, and with his other hand he tucked a lock of hair back behind her ear. “You know how much you mean to me, right?”

  “Yeah. Of course,” she said. “And you mean a lot to me, too. ”

  “And I would never do anything to hurt you. ” His voice had gone low, sounding husky and thick. His hand lingered in her hair, the rough skin of his thumb caressing her cheek. “I never want to disappoint you or let you down. ”

  “And you don’t, Daniel,” Harper told him earnestly. “You impress me all the time, with your patience and kindness and strength. The things you do for other people, that you do for me and my family…”

  “I would do anything for you, to keep you safe, to keep you happy. ” His eyes were searching her face, almost studying it, and he swallowed hard.

  “I know. ”

  “I love you,” Daniel said softly.

  Harper stared up at him, too stunned to say anything at first. The weight of the words hit her, and there was something both warm and terrifying about them.

  Then Daniel was kissing her, his mouth pressing deeply against hers, and she didn’t have to respond. It was almost as if he didn’t want her to, like he was afraid to hear what she might say. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer to her, and hoped that would be answer enough.

  If he’d been holding something back before, he certainly wasn’t now. His hand stayed on her face, his fingers tangling in her hair. His arm around her waist was all but holding her up.

  She’d been standing on her tiptoes, leaning up to kiss him more forcefully, but they stumbled backward. He put both his arms around her waist to steady her. Her shirt had ridden up, so his hand gripped the exposed flesh, sending heat through her.

  He stepped forward, pushing her back, their mouths still pressed together, until she felt the bed hit the back of her legs and they tumbled onto it. A pile of clothes bulged underneath, forcing her to arch her back, but it was actually better that way—it pushed her closer to him.

  The feverish way he kissed her, making his scruff pleasurably scrape her lips, wasn’t enough anymore. She wanted more of him, all of him, really. Her hands slid underneath his shirt, digging into the powerful muscles of his back, as she held him to her.

  Under her fingertips, she felt the bumps and dips of his scarring, and realized that her fingers were on the outlines of his tattoo.

  Daniel had an arm on either side of Harper, trying to hold himself up so he wouldn’t crush her. But she leaned up, pushing her body against his. She raised her legs so her thighs were pressed into his waist, and he moaned against her lips.

  Brian coughed loudly, interrupting the moment so Harper’s flush of heat switched from pleasure to shame.

  Daniel rolled off of Harper, and as she sat up, she readjusted her shirt. Nothing had been up or off, but things had gotten rumpled. Her dad stood in the doorway of her room, but he was staring off down the hall, probably not wanting to accidentally see something he could never unsee.

  “I just wanted to let you know that I’m home from work now,” Brian said. “I’m going to go help Gemma with her car before we head out. But you two might want to come down or hose yourselves off. ”

  “Um, thanks, Dad,” Harper mumbled, looking down at the floor. “We’ll be down in a second. ”

  “That’d probably be good,” Brian said, then walked away.

  THIRTY-THREE

  Broken

  Gemma knew part of the reason her dad was working on the car was out of penance. Not that Brian really had anything to atone for. He was an adult, and he had every right to terminate his marriage, especially since he had obvious reasons for it.

  She shouldn’t be hurt over it, but she was anyway. Brian knew that, too, so he was doing his part to make her life a little easier. He also probably figured that she had enough trouble this summer, and he’d promised to fix her car every time it broke down.

  That normally wasn’t that big a chore, but with the heat the way it had been the last few days, any amount of time spent outside wasn’t fun. The sun beat down, and the humidity smothered them.

  “Do you think you can fix it, then?” Gemma asked. She leaned back against the closed garage door while her dad had his head under the hood of her car.

  “Yeah. ” He’d been twisting something with his right hand, but now he just leaned forward, staring at the jerry-rigged abyss. “But I’ll have to get a part for it. ”

  “Sorry. ” An awkward silence fell between them, so she asked, “Is Harper about ready?”

  “Oh, who knows?” her dad muttered.

  “Didn’t you check on her?”

  “Yeah. ” Brian snorted. “She said she’d be down in a minute, but I came outside, so I don’t know. ”

  “Oh. ” She didn’t know what that was about, but Brian didn’t seem to want to talk about it. “Thanks for taking a look at my car, Dad. ”

  “No problem. ” He straightened up and wiped the grease off his hand with a rag. “Hey, what do you think of that Daniel kid?”

  “Daniel? He’s a good guy. ”

  “He treats your sister all right?” Brian looked at Gemma, watching her.

  “Yeah. ” Gemma nodded. “As far as I know, he treats her really well. ”

  “Good. ” He wiped harder at the grease. “Are they getting serious, do you think?”

  She shrugged. “Maybe. I know Harper really likes him. ”

  “Ah, hell. ” He sighed, then shoved the rag in his back pocket. “I knew eventually it would h
appen. ”

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  “What?”

  “Both of you, dating boys. ” Brian squinted up into the sunlight so he wouldn’t have to look at his daughter. “I always kinda hoped at least one of you would end up an old spinster. ”

  She smirked. “Sorry, Dad. ”

  “And here comes more trouble. ” He motioned next door, and Gemma looked over to see Alex walking toward them.

  He wore his regular clothes as opposed to his work overalls, but his Boba Fett T-shirt appeared a bit too small. It hadn’t been a few weeks ago, but now it pulled snug across his chest and biceps.

  His hands were shoved in the pockets of his jeans, and he kept his head down. His thick hair cascaded across his forehead.

  “Hello, Alex,” Brian said, his voice firm but not exactly hard. “I haven’t seen you at work the last couple days. ”

  “Yeah, I haven’t been feeling very well. ” He glanced up at Brian, but only for a second, then turned to face Gemma. “Hey, Gemma, can I talk to you for a minute?”

  She stood up straighter, but stayed leaning against the garage door. “Sure. ”

  “Gemma?” Brian said, studying the two of them. “I can stay out here, looking at a few other things on your car. ”

  “No, it’s okay, Dad. I’ve got it. ” She tried to smile reassuringly at him.

  Brian hesitated before nodding. “All right. I’ll go check on Harper. But we do have to get going soon. ”

  “Okay. Thanks, Dad,” Gemma said.

  They stood in silence until after Brian had gone into the house. Alex finally lifted his head and looked at her. She wanted to brush his brown hair back from his forehead, so she could search his eyes for the warmth that had once been there.

  But she didn’t. Not so much because she was afraid of how he would react if she touched him—but because she was afraid that she might not find any warmth left inside him.

  “I need you to be honest with me,” Alex told her.

  “Okay. I’ll try. ”

  “No, Gemma,” he snapped. “Not try. Completely honest. If you ever loved me, I need you to be honest. ”

  She swallowed. “Okay. ”

  “I loved you,” Alex said, and she couldn’t look at him. “And I think I loved you for a long time. Well, maybe I really liked you for a long time, but once we started dating, I was head over heels for you. ”

  “I don’t know why you’re telling me this. I have nothing to be honest—”

  “Because I loved you with everything in me, and now I can’t stand you,” Alex said. “Except that’s not even true. It’s like I’m supposed to hate you. But I don’t think I ever really can. ”

  “I’m sorry,” Gemma whispered.

  “I’ve thought about it and thought about it. But I can’t think of a single reason why my love turned into hate. I don’t even remember breaking up with you. Do you?”

  “Of course I do,” she said, but that was sort of a lie.

  Alex hadn’t broken up with her. What she remembered—and she did remember it vividly—was her using the siren song to cast a spell on Alex and convince him that he didn’t love her. She thought about it every day, and even though she knew it kept him safe, she wished she could take it back.