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SIX

  Fairy Dust

  As soon as they got close to Bernie’s Island, an intense nostalgia washed over Harper like a wave. She’d been afraid that she’d lost the wonderful love for one of her favorite places on earth, but it was all coming back.

  Daniel moving out to the island had helped her forget about the night they’d come out here and found Bernie McAllister eviscerated in the trees. She’d managed to shove that image deep down inside her, burying it beneath all the happy memories of her childhood spent out here with Bernie and her sister.

  As they pulled up to the dock, which was hidden among the trees that grew out into the water, Harper breathed in deeply. The island was almost overgrown with bald cypress trees and pines towering above them.

  Instead of taking The Dirty Gull into the boathouse, Daniel tied it off at the dock. He’d have to take Harper home in a few hours, and it would be easier this way.

  He got off the boat, and held his hand out for Harper, helping her.

  “Do you see that?” Daniel let go of her hand to point down at the dock.

  “What?” Harper looked down at the warped gray boards beneath her feet. “Does it need to be replaced or something?”

  “No. Well, yeah, probably, but that’s not what I meant,” Daniel said. “I mean, do you see where your feet are? You’re standing on the island now. ”

  “Technically I’m on the dock, and that’s not part of the island,” Harper teased.

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  He sighed. “It’s close enough. And you remember our agreement?”

  “I do. ” She smiled up at him. “Once we’re on the island, no talking about sirens or Gemma. It’s just the two of us tonight, without any distractions. ”

  Since moving out to the island, Daniel had been picking up more jobs to cover the cost of rent, and Harper’d been working extra shifts at the library to save up for college. And whenever the two of them did manage to get the same time off, something with Gemma or Brian or the sirens always seemed to come up. They’d hardly had a moment alone together in the past month.

  So Daniel had come up with a plan in which they’d both leave the world behind for a little bit—or as much as Harper could leave it. With everything going on with her sister, she’d never really be able to let go.

  “I do reserve the right to leave my phone on and accept any incoming calls, or make any, if I feel it’s necessary,” Harper said.

  “I’ll allow it. But only in case of an emergency. ”

  “Fair enough. ”

  “Now come on. ” Daniel stepped backward but he held out his hand to her. “It’s Friday night, and we’re going to enjoy ourselves. ”

  She laughed and let him take her hand, his rough skin somehow feeling so perfect against hers. They walked on the narrow path up to the cabin, with creeping Charlie threatening to overgrow the worn dirt path.

  The trees were tall and thick enough that the sun streamed through in thin shards. When an ocean breeze blew through the trees, the sunlight seemed to dance on the ground. It was the peacefulness, the odd silence and seclusion of the island, that gave it this wonderful air of magic.

  It was so easy to imagine that fairies or other woodland pixies were flitting among the trees, and as a child Harper often had. Bernie had always aided in these fantasies, telling both her and Gemma all kinds of stories filled with fantasy and wonder when they were young.

  Once Gemma had found a blue wing of a butterfly. What had happened to the rest of the insect, Harper had no idea, although she was certain that Gemma had done nothing to hurt it. She’d brought the wing over to show Bernie, and he’d crouched down, examining it with careful precision.

  “You know what this is, don’t you?” Bernie had asked in his warm cockney accent and pushed up the brim of his hat.

  “No. What is it?” Gemma asked. She couldn’t have been more than six at the time, so it must’ve been on one of the occasions when Bernie was babysitting them before their mother was in the accident.

  Harper stood behind her sister, watching over Gemma’s shoulder as Bernie gave his explanation. They were behind the cabin, by the roses that Bernie’s wife had planted. He refused to trim the bush or cut it back, so it had grown into the largest rosebush Harper had ever seen.

  The flowers themselves were massive and a vibrant purple. Each one was nearly twice the size of her fist, and they were so fragrant. When the breeze blew through it in the summer, the sweet perfume of the roses overtook everything else—the scent of the pine trees, the sea, and even the creeping Charlie.

  “This is a fairy wing,” Bernie said as he examined the blue wing, turning it carefully in front of his face. “And from the looks of it, I’d say it was from a Bluebelle Fairy. They fly over the flowers that are about to bloom, sprinkling their dust on them, and that’s how the flowers blossom. ”

  “There’s no such thing as fairies,” Harper said. Even then she was too old to fall for his stories.

  “There most certainly are,” Bernie said, pretending to sound offended. “When my wife was alive, bless her soul, she’d spot fairies all the time. That’s how come her rosebush always has the biggest, brightest flowers on it. The fairies are taking care of it for her. ”

  Harper didn’t want to contradict him more, mostly because she knew that he was just trying to have fun with Gemma. But part of it was because even though she knew better, she still believed him—or at least she wanted to.

  “Gemma knows I’m telling the truth,” Bernie said and handed the wing back to Gemma. “She’s probably seen the fairies, haven’t you?”

  “I think so. ” She held the fragile wing delicately and stared down at it. “They come in colors other than blue, too?”

  “Oh, they come in every color you can imagine,” Bernie said.

  “Then, yes, I’ve seen one. ” Gemma sounded more confident and nodded her head vigorously.

  “Next time you’ll have to point one out to your sister, won’t you?” He had looked up at Harper then and winked at her.

  “Hey, where’d you go?” Daniel asked, drawing Harper back to the present.

  They’d reached the cabin, which looked about the same as the last time she’d seen it. The structure was over fifty years old, and while Bernie had kept it up as best he could, in the last few years it had really begun to show its age.

  Daniel had obviously cleaned it up some, replacing the shattered front windows and a log that had rotted out. He left the flowering ivy growing up over the far side of the cabin, small purple and blue blossoms on it, but he’d trimmed it back from the windows and the roof.

  “Sorry. ” She smiled up at Daniel. “I was just thinking. ”

  “About what?”

  “Bernie used to say there were fairies out here,” Harper said, and she turned to survey the wind blowing through the trees. The way the shadows and the light played together, as well as the birds and butterflies flitting through the trees, it was easy to imagine that she saw them now.

  “Did you believe him?” Daniel asked, watching her as she stared out at the trees.

  “I didn’t, not then. ” She shook her head. “No, I did at first, but then I grew out of it and stopped playing make-believe. ” Harper looked back at Daniel. “But now I wonder, maybe there really are fairies. ”

  “What makes you believe in them now? Did you see one flying around?” He glanced up, scanning the skies for any signs of one.

  “No. ” She smiled, but it was pained and fell away quickly. “With everything we’ve seen lately, it’s made me realize that there has to be more than meets the eye. There have to be so many creatures that we don’t even know about. ”

  “I know,” he agreed and stepped closer to her. “Isn’t that wonderful?”

  “How is that wonderful? I think it’s scary. ”

  “You’re missing the beauty of it,” Daniel said. “There’s so much magic in the world, so much more than I’d ever even
believed there could be. We’ve only just seen the tip of it. Pixies, gnomes, even unicorns and dragons. Who knows what more is out there?”

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  “You’re only listing the nicest parts of the fairy tales,” Harper said, looking up at him. He was so close to her, they were nearly touching. If she breathed in deeply, her chest would press against his. “What about the monsters?”

  “Dragons aren’t the nicest parts of the stories,” Daniel countered, and she smiled crookedly. “But you don’t need to worry about the monsters. I’ll protect you. ”

  A breeze came up, bringing the sweet scent of the roses with it, and a lock of Harper’s hair came loose and blew in her face. Daniel brushed it back, but let his hand linger on her cheek for a moment as she stared up into his hazel eyes. The way he looked at her made heat swirl in her belly.

  She was hoping he’d kiss her, but instead he dropped his hand and took a step back.

  “Are you ready to come inside and see what I’ve done with the place?” Daniel asked and moved backward to the cabin door.

  “What did you do?” Harper asked, tilting her head.

  He smiled. “Come here and you’ll see. ”

  SEVEN

  Anniversary

  When Daniel had moved out here two weeks ago, Harper had helped him, but she hadn’t been able to visit him since. Then, the house had been in disarray as he tried to unpack and fix up some of the damage the sirens had left.

  He leaned back on the front door now, reaching behind himself to turn the handle, and he stepped backward with it as he opened it. Harper stepped inside cautiously, unsure of what to expect.

  She’d expected him to clean it up but she hadn’t known he would redecorate. The walls had been left their natural wood color, but Daniel had painted over them with a varnish, making them look brighter, cleaner, and more modern.

  The countertops in the kitchen had been old and cracked, and he’d replaced them with dark stone counters. Bernie’s old furniture had been traded in for a soft couch, and for a coffee table Daniel used an old steamer trunk.

  Somehow he’d managed to make the place look fresher and more contemporary, yet still maintain its rustic, seaside appeal.

  “This looks amazing,” Harper said and turned around to look at him. “How did you do this? How could you afford all this stuff?”

  “I’ve got my ways,” Daniel said. “I did some work for people and collected hand-me-downs and thrift store stuff. Then I just put it all together. ”

  “This is incredible. ” She looked around the cabin again. “You’re really good at this. The sets for Gemma’s play are going to look amazing. ”

  “I know. ” He smiled. “So do you wanna hear what I have planned for our anniversary dinner?”

  “It’s not really an anniversary dinner,” Harper said, mostly because she felt a little silly celebrating a one-month. “That was technically two days ago. I think. We did decide that we officially started dating on the Fourth of July, right?”

  “Right. It sounds more romantic that way. ” Daniel grinned. “We kissed, and then there were fireworks, and we’ve been together ever since. ”

  She laughed. “There were literally fireworks. ”

  “That’s the point,” he said. “Now go have a seat. I’m making you dinner. ”

  “You’re making me dinner?” Harper tried not to look skeptical. “I thought you said you couldn’t cook. ”

  “I can’t. Now go have a seat. ”

  He put his hand on the small of her back and gently pushed her over to a small table that separated the kitchen from the living room. A tablecloth was draped over it, with two white candles set in the center.

  “So how is this gonnna work, then?” Harper asked after she sat down. “You making dinner if you can’t cook?”

  “I have a very simple plan,” he said as he went back to the kitchen.

  “You don’t have to do this, you know. ” She leaned on the table, watching him open the fridge.

  “I know. I want to. I wanted to do something nice and normal. ”

  “Normal?”

  He took out a large Tupperware bowl. Harper could make out green leaves with red cherry tomatoes on the side, like he’d cut up and mixed together fresh salad greens earlier. He set the bowl on the counter, then went over to the cupboard.

  “Yeah,” he said and pulled plates out of the cupboard. “I’ve never really gotten to take you out on a proper date. The one time I did take you out, it turned into a battle with sirens. ”

  “We’re not supposed to talk about that,” she reminded him.

  He smiled. “Right. Well, you know what happened anyway. ”

  “So … why does this mean you have to cook for me?” She propped her chin with a hand and fought the urge to get up and help him. It felt wrong having someone else wait on her.

  “It doesn’t. But it’s something that guys do,” Daniel explained.

  “I can cook for you. ”

  “I know you can. You’ve done it before, and the food was very tasty, thank you. ” He smiled at her, then dished out the salad onto plates.

  “I can help you, at least,” she offered.

  Daniel stopped what he was doing so he could face her directly. “Harper, I want to do something for you. Will you let me do that?”

  “Yes. Sorry. ” She smiled sheepishly and tucked her hair behind her ear. “I would love it if you made me dinner. ”

  “Thank you. ”

  “So … what are we having?” Harper asked.

  Daniel carried two plates over to the table. He set one down in front of her and one at his place across from her. Fresh arugula, spinach greens, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers were the only things on her plate so far.

  “Well, I thought we’d start with a salad, with homemade vinaigrette,” he told her. “It’s my grandmother’s recipe, and it is delicious. ”

  “Ooh, sounds intriguing. ”

  “It is. ” He went back into the kitchen and grabbed a small decanter of the vinaigrette from the fridge. “Then, for our next course, I thought we would have a bowl of Pearl’s famous clam chowder. ”

  “Pearl paid you in a bucket of soup again, didn’t she?” Harper asked as he sat down across from her.

  “She did, but it’s amazing,” Daniel admitted. “For dessert, I have not one but two flavors of ice cream. Is your mind blown yet?”

  She smiled. “Yeah, it kinda is. ”

  “So, yeah. That’s my dinner. ” He stared expectantly across the table from her. “What do you think?”

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  “I think it sounds wonderful, and I appreciate the thought you put into making it. It’s very sweet. ”

  “Sweet enough to earn me a make-out session after supper?” Daniel asked with an arched eyebrow.

  She pretended to think it over. “Depends on how full I am. ”

  “We could always skip the soup,” he suggested, causing Harper to laugh. “The salad might be filling enough. ”

  Harper dug in, eating a mouthful of salad, and nodded. “This is really good. ”

  “Thank you,” he said, sounding a little relieved. “The vegetables are fresh from the garden out back. It was a bit overgrown when I moved in, but I think I’ve got it under control now. The dressing is really simple, and it’s one of three things I actually do know how to make. ”

  “Your gramma taught you how to make it?” Harper asked between bites.

  “She did, yeah. ” He nodded. “She passed away a while ago. I was really close to my grandparents. They basically raised me and my brother. ”

  “What about your parents?” She watched him for his response.

  “What about them?” Daniel asked and didn’t look up from his food.

  “You never really talk about them. ”

  “Oh. ” He poked emptily at his food for a few seconds before going on. “There’s not a lot to tell. My da
d was a drunk, and he wasn’t the nicest guy. He used to beat up on my mom and stuff. He finally left when I was ten. I thought things would get better after that, but they didn’t. ”

  Harper had been about to take a bite, but she stopped. Daniel hardly ever talked about his family life or his childhood, and she hadn’t any idea that he’d grown up in an abusive home.

  “Why not?” Harper asked finally.

  He shook his head. “I don’t know. It was weird because my mom was so miserable when he was around, but it was like, after he left, she didn’t know what to do when somebody wasn’t telling her what to do or putting her down. ”

  “I’m sorry to hear that,” she said and took another bite, mostly so Daniel wouldn’t think that she didn’t like his meal.

  “It’s okay. Eventually she found someone to fill that void, and they got married. My brother died, then my grandparents died and left her some money. She didn’t see any reason to stick around here anymore, so she and the new husband moved out to Vegas. ”

  “And you stayed here?” Harper asked.

  “Well, I wasn’t exactly invited to join them, but I don’t think I would’ve gone anyway. My boat’s here, and that’s about the only thing I really owned. And I grew up here, so…” His voice trailed off.

  “I’m glad you stayed. ”

  He looked up at her finally and smiled. “Me, too. ”

  They finished their salads, and moved on to dinner and dessert. Harper tried to wash the dishes, but he wouldn’t let her. He insisted that it was a romantic evening, and the cleaning could wait until tomorrow.

  Daniel let her pick the movie from his rather modest collection, and she chose Edward Scissorhands. It wasn’t her favorite, but given a choice between that and Jaws, Mad Max, or The Godfather, she thought it seemed like the most romantic.

  They started out sitting on the couch next to each other, but it wasn’t long before Daniel was lying on his back and Harper was curled up with him. Her head was on his chest, and he had one arm wrapped around her.

  Normally, Harper would lie awake in bed for hours before she could fall asleep. Her mind would race through all her concerns, almost all of them involving Gemma, sirens, or college, and when she was really in a mood, she could stay up all night worrying about her mom, her dad, Alex, Marcy, really anything and everything.

  But something about being with Daniel like this, feeling safe and secure as he held her to him, the sound of his heart beating slowly under her ear, was putting her to sleep.

  For his part, Daniel had been working incredibly hard over the last few weeks. When he wasn’t at the theater trying to get the set together or doing odd jobs, he was fixing up the house.

  So within minutes both of them were sleeping soundly on the couch.

  She woke up first, and she knew she should’ve felt some panic at waking up in a strange place, but she couldn’t muster the anxiety. Lying with Daniel felt too good. Besides, the clock on his wall said it was only a quarter after eleven, so Gemma probably wasn’t even home yet.

  He was still asleep, but he must’ve woken up at some point because the television was off. The only light was the moon pouring in through the open windows. It wasn’t full yet, but it was bright enough that Harper watched him sleep for a minute.