“People putting their hands in food is even grosser,” Harper said, and Marcy stuck her tongue out.
“If our mom could date, she’d definitely be pining for some Cody guy,” said Gemma.
“Cody who?” Marcy asked.
Gemma shook her head. “I don’t know, but she took down all the Justin Bieber posters and replaced them.”
“Personally, I don’t care who she’s into,” Harper said as she started lighting the candles on Gemma’s cake. “Just as long as she keeps doing better like she has been lately.”
Gemma had finally confessed to using the siren song on Nathalie, which is why she’d started acting strangely at the end of summer. The exact words Gemma had used had been I want you to remember all the things you forgot. Everything about Harper and Dad and me. I want you to come back.
Nathalie had tried, and she had shown some improvement, but she’d never be able to come all the way back. Her brain had been damaged, and the siren song was powerful and seemed to encourage her synapses to fire, but it couldn’t make destroyed tissue grow back again.
But she had more moments of clarity than she’d had in the years since her accident. She remembered more things, and when Harper and Gemma made their Saturday visits with their mom, she seemed more contented within her condition. Gemma had also used the siren song, saying You’ll never feel a headache again, so Nathalie’s frequent migraines never came back either, and that certainly helped.
Thea had told Gemma that, eventually, the effects of the siren song might fade, but so far, they’d held strong. Not just with Nathalie, but with Mayor Crawford and the police as well. Penn had used the song to convince the mayor not to look for his missing son Aiden. For a long time afterward, Daniel had struggled with confessing his role in getting rid of the body, just so the mayor could have some closure.
Eventually, he submitted an anonymous tip, telling the mayor where to look for his son’s body. But Mayor Crawford wouldn’t hear of it. He insisted publicly that his son was living on an island, happy, and if anyone tried to contradict him or suggest they conduct a search, he wouldn’t hear of it.
Daniel suspected that the mayor’s own denial might be feeding into that. It was much easier to live believing that his son was alive and happy than that he was dead.
For a while after the curse had been broken, Gemma had Lydia looking for Thea. She’d been hoping that Thea might still be alive, that the curse had only made her mortal again, but eventually she’d come to accept that Thea was gone. It was just as she’d said, and when the curse was broken, Thea had turned to dust. Only her memory remained, and Gemma and Harper would carry it with them for the rest of their lives.
“Okay,” Harper said as she lit the last candle on the cake and smiled at her sister. “Blow out all the candles and make a wish.”
The birthday party went on the rest of the afternoon, with them laughing and talking. When the sun began to set, people started saying their good-byes. Harper stayed behind to help clean up. Still, she walked out to the end of the dock, watching Gemma and their friends float back to the mainland in Bernie’s old boat.
When she came back to the house, Daniel was already pulling down some of the streamers. She grabbed a stepladder to help him, but he stopped her.
“That can wait,” he said, taking her hand.
“Why?” Harper asked, giving him an odd look. “You were already cleaning up.”
“I was just getting a jump-start while you were busy. But it’ll still be here when we come back in.” Still holding her hand, Daniel took a step back, pulling her toward the door.
“Where are we going?” she asked with a laugh.
“Just out back.”
The small island was covered in tall cypress and loblolly pines, so the setting sun left slivers of orange all over the ground. Wind rustled lightly through the trees, causing the branches to sway and dance, and other than the trees, the only sound was that of the ocean waves lapping against the shore.
It felt so quiet and secluded, and almost magical. When she was a kid, and Bernie McAllister had babysat her, he’d told her stories about fairies, and even as logical as Harper had been, she’d secretly believed some of his fantastical tales. The island made it so easy to imagine.
The pathway around the cabin was partially covered in Creeping Charlie, and as she stepped, it crunched beneath her feet, filling the air with the minty scent. But, very quickly, it was overpowered by the large roses behind the cabin. The sweet perfume of the flowers overpowered nearly everything on the island, and even though it was early April, they were already in full bloom.
Bernie’s late wife, Thalia, had planted the bush, and after meeting with Diana/Demeter last summer, Harper had come to believe that the rosebush was supernatural.
The roses were the most vibrant shade of purple Harper had ever seen. It was so early in the season, and they were already the size of her fist, but soon they’d be even twice that.
Daniel had made a bench, and it was posed right behind the cabin, facing the rosebush, which loomed over the rest of the garden. He motioned for Harper to sit down first, and once he joined her, she curled up next to him, resting her head on his shoulder.
“Thank you,” Harper said as the last rays of sunlight broke through the trees, dancing on the bright flowers of the bush, and the sky darkened above them.
“For what?” Daniel asked.
“For suggesting we come out here. It’s really beautiful.”
He turned his head slightly, so he could look down at her. “You’re really beautiful.”
Harper laughed. “Stop.”
“No, I mean it.” He pulled away from her so he could turn to face her, and his lips twitched into an anxious smile as he took her hands in his. His hazel eyes met hers, but there was something in them she couldn’t read. “You’re so beautiful, and I love you so much.”
“I love you, too,” Harper said hesitantly, afraid of what he might be getting at, and she sat up straighter.
He lowered his eyes and swallowed. “This last year, we went through so much, and there were some really terrible things that happened. But it’s honestly been the best year in my life because I’ve been with you.” He cleared his throat. “I can’t really envision the rest of my life without you.”
“Daniel, what’s going on? Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing’s wrong.” He smiled at her, but it looked forced. “I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t want to imagine my life without you.”