“Me, too,” Gemma agreed.
“Where do you think she’s going?”
Gemma shrugged. “Anywhere she wants.”
“I should get going now.” Harper turned toward the living room when she spoke, and Brian muted the TV and got out of his chair.
“Did you get any homework done?” he asked as he walked over to where she and Gemma stood by the front door.
“Some, but I have plenty left to do,” Harper admitted bleakly. “Fortunately, it’s still really early in the semester, so I have time to get my grades up.”
“So you probably won’t be able to visit for a while,” Brian said.
“For a little bit, I probably shouldn’t,” Harper agreed. “But you know me; I can’t stay away for too long.”
She faced Gemma and embraced her tightly. They didn’t hug that often, but this time, they were both slow to let go of each other.
“Thanks for coming home to save me,” Gemma whispered.
“What are sisters for?” Harper asked with a small laugh.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too,” Harper said, and finally released her. She hugged her dad, and he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “’Bye, Dad.”
He held the front door open for her. “Drive safely, and call me this week to let me know how things are going in school.”
Harper went outside and walked across the lawn to her Sable, parked in the driveway. Gemma almost wanted to follow her out and wait on the steps and watch her go, like she did when she was little, and her mom dropped her off at day care.
But she didn’t. She just let her sister go and closed the door.
The sun was setting as Harper crossed Anthemusa Bay, and the breeze felt wonderful blowing through her hair. As she got closer to Bernie’s Island, she was surprised to see Daniel standing at the end of the dock, waiting for her with his hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans.
When Harper pulled the little speedboat up, he tied it off for her, then he took her hand and helped her out.
“You didn’t have to wait for me,” she said.
“I know, but I wanted to.” Daniel took her book bag from her and slung it over his shoulder.
They went on the dirt path up to the cabin, the air smelling of the creeping charlie and pine. The tall trees kept out most of the sunset, so it was nearly dark as they walked.
“You’re awfully quiet tonight,” she commented, as they reached his house.
“You texted and said you wanted to talk. So I thought I’d let you talk first.”
Inside the house, he set her bag down by the door. He offered her something to drink, which she declined, then she sat down on the couch.
“Why don’t you sit down?” Harper asked, patting the empty spot next to her.
“Okay.” He seemed hesitant, but he did as she asked.
“Are you nervous?”
His hazel eyes settled uncertainly on her. “Should I be?”
“No. It’s not bad. Honest.”
“We’ll see.” Daniel leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and he looked like a man who was waiting for a bomb to drop.
Harper took a deep breath and began what she wanted to say. “Since we’ve been together, everything has been so crazy and so intense.”
“That is true,” he agreed, but sounded reluctant to do so.
“And we’ve hardly even had a chance to just be together or do normal couple things, like argue over what to watch on TV. Then everything happened with Penn, and now I’m away at college.”
He folded his hands together and stared down at the floor. “I know.”
“And in everything we’ve been through, you’ve proven to be strong and loyal and patient and wonderful, and I’ve grown to love you so very much.”
“You’re doing that thing again.” He inhaled sharply through his teeth and rubbed the back of his neck. “You’re saying something nice, but you make it sound so bad.”
“I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone,” she continued pouring her heart out to him, mindless of his growing apprehension. “You aren’t the man of my dreams because I could never have dreamed someone as amazing as you. I wouldn’t have thought that anyone as wonderful and as perfect for me as you existed. But with all that, I’ve realized something.”
He sighed. “And here it is.”
“I don’t know your middle name,” she said finally.
He stared down for a second, then he cocked his head and looked at her. “What?”
“We skipped all the fun getting-to-know-you stuff, the first-date questions. Maybe because we were kinda friends first, or maybe it was because we both thought we could die at any moment. But we were almost instantly in a serious relationship.”
He opened his mouth, then closed it. Shaking his head, he said, “My middle name is Grant.”
“Mine’s Lynn. My birthday’s January 9, so I’m a Capricorn,” she said. “I think that you’re a Scorpio.”
“Yeah, I am. But what is this we’re doing here?” He motioned between the two of them. “What’s going on?”
“I thought that if I love you, and want to spend the rest of my life with you, that I should get all the first-date stuff out of the way.”
“Oh, you are tricky.” He narrowed his eyes at her as a gradual smile spread out across his face. “You psyched me out on purpose.”
“I did,” she admitted with a laugh.
He shook his head, then he leaned over and kissed her. She put her arms around him, pulling him to her, but then he stopped her.
“Hey, wait.” He stood up. “I wanna give you something.”
“What? What for?”
“I just finished it yesterday.” He held his hand out to her. “It’s in my room.”
Taking his hand, she let him lead her into his room. He flicked on the bedroom light, and in the middle of the floor at the end of his bed was a wooden chest. It reminded Harper of a smallish pirate’s chest, made out of a smooth wood, but in the center was a very unique detail.
Older, faded wood had been carved out in the shape of a heart. Branches had been wrapped around it, outlining the heart, and in the center of it, “Harper” had been very delicately carved into it.
“You made that?” Harper asked, in awe.
“Yeah. I bought some of the wood, but most of it is reclaimed. Some of the wood around the front of the house was rotted, but the parts that were still good, I used for the heart.”