Harper crouched in front of it, running her fingers along the top and carefully over the heart.
“The branches for the heart came from the rosebush.” He pointed to it. “I know how much you love this island, and I know that you’re gonna be gone at school for a long time. Doctors go to school for years and years. So I thought that if you could put your books and stuff in there, then, while you were away, you’d always have a little bit of here with you.”
“Daniel.” She smiled up at him with tears in her eyes. “That’s so sweet.”
She stood up and looked up into his eyes. “You really are the perfect guy.”
“It helps that I have a girl who I want to try to be perfect for.”
When she kissed him, she remembered everything he’d done for her, everything he’d given, and all that she wanted to give him. She loved him more deeply than she had loved anything before, and now all she wanted to do was be with him.
She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer. His arm encircled her waist as she kissed him more forcefully, then he picked her up and carried her back toward the bed.
When he set her back down, gently, his mouth separated from hers long enough so he could pull off his shirt, and Harper took the chance to do the same. And within seconds he was on her again, his lips trailing down her neck so his stubble scraped against her skin.
She’d worn a front-clasp bra, and he unhooked it as his mouth encircled her breast. She wrapped her legs around him, pressing her thighs against his waist, and that seemed to be all the encouragement he needed.
His lips were on hers again, kissing her fervently as she undid his pants. He sat up, pulling them down and roughly kicking them off, while Harper removed her own jeans. And then he was back with her again.
He started out slow, easing himself inside her. She clung tightly to him, and when he kissed her, she moaned against his lips. Then they were moving together, faster and more deeply, as Harper felt a wonderful, almost serene heat spread through her.
Every moment before this one became worth it, every single thing that she had gone through suddenly made sense, because it all brought her to this, brought her here to Daniel’s arms, exactly where she belonged.
The picture lay on the top of her comforter next to her, and Gemma stared down at it. Her notebook was open, and she was supposed to be writing in it, but she kept staring at the picture of her, Harper, and their mom. In the warm light of her bedside lamp, that photo had become the most distracting thing in the world.
“What are you doing?” her dad asked, poking his head in her room.
Gemma was quick to flip the notebook shut, hiding anything she’d written, and she smiled up at him. “Just journaling.”
“I didn’t know you still did that.” Brian walked over and stood next to her bed.
“I do.” She shrugged. “Sometimes.”
“I’m really glad that you’re home and you’re safe.” He reached down, stroking her, then he bent down and kissed the top of her head. “I love you so much.”
“I love you, too, Dad.”
He turned to head back out. “Don’t stay up too late. You have school in the morning.”
“I won’t,” she said, then just before he left, she added, “I had a really great time today. Thanks for spending the day with me.”
“Me, too.” He smiled, then shut her door and went down the hall to his own room.
After he’d gone, Gemma let out a deep breath and flipped the notebook back open, looking over what she’d written. She went over it several more times, making sure it had everything that she wanted to say.
When she was sure it was perfect, she rewrote it in her most legible handwriting, then gave it one final read-through.
To Dad & Harper—
By the time you read this, I’ll already be gone. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you what was happening, but I didn’t want you to spend our last few days together being frantic and worried. I’ve tried everything I can think of to break the curse, so I thought it would be better if we could just enjoy the little time we had left. And I did. I enjoyed the last couple days we spent together more than you’ll ever know. They were some of the best days of my entire life.
I’m sorry for everything I’ve put you both through. No other girl in the world is lucky enough to have a family as supportive and loving and amazing as you guys.
I want to you know that I’m not scared or upset. I made my peace with this. I’m only sad that I won’t get to see you guys more. Wherever it is that sirens go after they die, I know that I’ll be missing you.
I love you forever and always.
With the letter finished, she set it on her bed, next to the picture. She’d put on her pajamas so that her dad would think she was going to bed, but she changed out of them and put on her favorite dress. If she had to die, then she wanted to do it as much on her terms as she could.
Once her dad was asleep, she laid everything out on her bed the way she wanted him to find it. She almost put on shoes, but then realized that where she was going, she wouldn’t need shoes or her cell phone. So she left them both beside her bed, and as quietly as she could, she crept down the stairs and out the front door, into the summer night.
“You can’t say your favorite movie is Phantom of the Opera,” Daniel insisted.
She lay in bed next to him, one of his arms around her and her head resting in the crook of his arm. He was still shirtless, but she’d slipped on his Led Zeppelin T-shirt, and she was already plotting a way to sneak it into her bag so she could take it with her to college.
“Why?” Harper laughed. “It’s a really good movie.”
“I don’t know if it’s good or not. I haven’t seen it. But you can’t say that’s your favorite movie if you love The Devil Wears Prada more,” he argued.
“I love that movie, but Phantom is a better film. And it sounds better when I say it.”
“It doesn’t matter what people think or what’s better,” he insisted. “It’s about which one you love more.”
She shook her head. “Nope. I stand by my decision.”
“You know, it’s a good thing we’re having this conversation now and not when we first started dating, because then I would think you were a liar, and I don’t date liars.”