And as she read, Harper found herself having fun despite herself. She had the kids join in, and when they were gnashing their terrible teeth and roaring their terrible roars, she couldn’t help but smile.
It was all going well until she was nearing the end of the story and heard the front door open. She lifted her head, expecting to see a late-arriving child, but instead it was Daniel, striding up to the front desk.
Her heart skipped a beat, and for a second Harper forgot how to read. She fumbled over the words, but she’d recovered by the time Marcy pointed back to the children’s corner and Daniel turned around to smile at her.
Harper quickly averted her eyes, forcing a smile down at the little kids in front of her, and tried not to think about how foxy Daniel looked today.
What Harper found even more unnerving than her own feelings for Daniel was his banter with Marcy. He leaned against the desk, apparently waiting for Harper to finish the story, and chatted amiably with her.
Nobody chatted amiably with Marcy. Not even Harper, and Harper was pretty much her best friend.
It wasn’t that she was jealous, but she couldn’t imagine what they were talking about. Her real fear was that they were talking about her and Marcy might spill some hideously embarrassing secret.
Of course, Harper knew that it shouldn’t matter what Marcy said to Daniel. In fact, it would be better if Marcy told him something that would turn him off of her forever. She didn’t have time to get involved with him. Since he hadn’t called and told her he’d found anything about Gemma in a voice mail, Harper thought it was a safe bet that this was a social call, and it probably would be better if Marcy got rid of him for her.
But then … Harper didn’t want that, either. She knew she didn’t have time to like him, but that didn’t mean that she didn’t like him. She just wished she didn’t.
Harper did a slipshod job of the last quarter of the book, and she made a promise to herself that she would make it up to the kids at the next story time. But none of the kids complained. They seemed happy just to have an excuse to roar.
Some of the children and their parents tried to talk to her after she’d finished the story, and Harper did her best not to rush them. She smiled and reminded them about the next story time in July. When a mother told her how much she loved Maurice Sendak, Harper even recommended other books she should check out.
But the very second she could, Harper extracted herself from the children’s corner and went over to the front desk, where Daniel was still talking with Marcy.
“No, I don’t doubt that,” Daniel was saying, laughing at something Marcy had said.
Marcy, for her part, wore her usual blank expression, giving Harper no indication of what they could’ve possibly been talking about.
“Hi,” Harper said, and her voice sounded oddly high-pitched to her own ears, so she rushed to correct it. “Hi. Um, were you looking for a book?”
Daniel had been leaning forward, his arms resting on the desk, but he turned so he could face Harper, leaving one elbow on the counter. His smile widened when he saw her, and she noticed the fading cuts on his cheek.
When Penn had been that awful bird-monster on Bernie’s Island, Daniel had rushed in with a pitchfork to defend both Harper and her younger sister. But Penn had lashed out, scratching him across the cheek with her claws.
That memory both tightened her heart and warmed it. The horror of the monsters still frightened her, but knowing that Daniel had put himself in harm’s way to protect her … it was hard not to feel something for him.
“What book were you reading them?” Daniel asked, pointing to where she’d been for story time. “Because that looked like a lot of fun.”
“Where the Wild Things Are. I can get it for you, if you want.” Harper moved like she meant to, and Daniel reached out, gently putting his arm on hers to stop her.
“Nah, that’s okay,” he said, letting his hand fall back to his side. “I think I’ve read it before. It is a good one, though.”
“Yeah, it is,” Harper agreed.
“I have to come clean with you,” Daniel said gravely.
She swallowed hard. “Oh?”
“I didn’t come in for a book,” he admitted, and one corner of his mouth turned up slightly.
Harper glanced over at Marcy, who was standing on the other side of the desk, unabashedly watching the two of them talk. Harper raised her eyebrows, trying to give her friend a knowing look, and Marcy sighed.
“I guess I have some books to put away or something,” Marcy muttered, and started pushing the cart out from behind the desk. “Because it’s not like I don’t have all day to put away twenty books. I need to do it right now.”
Once Marcy was out of earshot, Harper turned her attention back to Daniel.
“What is it that brought you here, then?” Harper asked, hoping she didn’t sound as nervous as she felt. Daniel had a way of making her completely flustered.
“I wanted to see why you’ve been avoiding me.” Daniel was smiling when he said it, but he couldn’t hide the hurt in his hazel eyes.
“I haven’t been—” Harper began to protest, but he waved her off.
“You’ve been ignoring my calls, and you haven’t been down to the docks to bring your dad his lunch,” Daniel said. “The poor man is probably starving.”
Brian worked down at the docks near where Daniel lived on his boat. Her father was notorious about forgetting his lunch, and Harper saw Daniel a lot when she brought it to him.
“My dad didn’t work that much this week,” Harper said. “He is today, but I honestly can’t tell you if he remembered his lunch or not. I forgot to check.”
“Oh,” Daniel said. “Well, that makes sense. But that doesn’t explain you ignoring my calls.”
“I…” She stared down at the floor, unable to meet his gaze. “Daniel, you know what the situation is. Things are so strange right now, and I really don’t have time for anything.”
“I wasn’t suggesting we run away together,” Daniel said. “I know how crazy things are. That’s why I was calling. I wanted to see how you were doing.”
“Oh.” Harper licked her lips and tried to think of something to say. “Well. Things are…”
“Why don’t we go talk about it?” Daniel asked. “Let’s go across the street to Pearl’s and grab some lunch. I’ll even let you pay for me.”