“Daniel.” She turned away from him and rushed to wipe her face as inconspicuously as possible. “Of course you would come here now.” He didn’t need to see her all snot-nosed and sobbing.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m fine. Everything’s fine.” She sniffled, grabbed the books, and stood up, realizing that she probably looked the best she could hope for, and turned to face him. “What can I do for you?”
“Were you crying?” he asked, his voice warm with concern.
She lowered her eyes, refusing to look up at him, but she could feel his eyes searching her. He moved even closer to her, so he was mere inches away, but Harper just hugged the books to her chest and stared down at her feet.
“I’m working, Daniel, so if you don’t need anything from me, I should probably get back to it,” she said.
“I know you’re working, and I wouldn’t bother you if it wasn’t important,” Daniel said. “Can you take, like, five minutes to go somewhere and talk with me?”
On her list of wants, being with Daniel right now only came second to finding Gemma. What Harper really wanted to do was go someplace dark and quiet with him, to give in to the warmth of his voice and the strength of his arms. To have him hold her and kiss her until she couldn’t feel anything but him, until she’d forgotten about the ache inside, all the pain she felt about losing her sister and disappointing her family.
And that was exactly why she shook her head. She wanted to use Daniel as an escape, and that wasn’t fair to him or to her. She needed to deal with the mess of her life instead of hiding from it, even if hiding sounded far more pleasant.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Harper said.
She wanted to lift her head, to steal a look at his expression, but she settled for looking up from his battered Converse shoes to his torso. He wore a T-shirt today, the dark black lines of his tattoo traveling out from underneath his sleeve down to his elbow.
Ever since he’d helped her at Bernie’s house on Sunday, Harper had a weird urge to trace her fingers along the dark lines of that tattoo. Last night, she’d even dreamt about it.
She and Daniel were lying in a bed, probably the largest bed she’d ever seen. It nearly took up the whole room. The room itself was white. Everything was pure, stark white.
Harper could hear the ocean outside, and she could smell it in the breeze. French doors that presumably led out to the beach were wide open, and sheer curtains billowed in the wind.
Daniel was lying next to her in the bed, shirtless, with the sheets up to his waist. He wasn’t facing her, but instead had his head turned toward the ocean. Harper rested her head on his bare shoulder and ran her fingers along his tattoo, tracing the dark lines that ran along the scars. He said nothing, but Harper sang him a sweet lullaby.
Then she heard her sister’s voice, coming from everywhere and nowhere at all. Gemma simply said, “Wake up,” and then she did. Harper had opened her eyes to find herself lying in her own bed, alone.
Maybe that was why everything was hitting her so hard today. It was as if Gemma were telling her that she was running out of time, and that Harper needed to stop wasting her time on a silly crush and get back to what mattered.
“Harper.” Daniel sighed, frustrated. “We need to talk. It’s about Gemma.”
Her eyes shot up then, and she finally met his gaze. His face was solemn, but there was something hopeful in his eyes, like he might have good news. But really, almost any news about Gemma would be good at this point.
“What about her?” Harper asked. “Have you heard from her?”
“Not exactly.” He reached behind his back and grabbed a rolled-up copy of USA Today that he’d jammed into his back pocket. “But you should take a look at this.”
“What?” She dropped the books she’d been holding on top of the bookshelf and snatched the paper from him before he could explain further.
The cover story was about some politician being caught in a tawdry affair with a celebrity, and the smaller features on the bottom half were about the economy and how people were planning to spend Independence Day this upcoming weekend.
“What does this have to do with Gemma?” Harper demanded.
“It’s not—here, just give it to me.”
Daniel took the paper from her and laid it out on top of the bookshelf. He opened it to the third page and smoothed out the crinkles as best he could before pointing to a small column on the side of the page.
“Boys Don’t Die” was the headline, with a subhead reading “Why the Media Doesn’t Care When Boys Are Killed.”
“This is about sexism in the media?” Harper scoffed, and looked at Daniel.
“Will you just keep reading?” Daniel asked.
She stared at him uncertainly before turning her attention back to the paper. As soon as she started reading, she saw the connection, but didn’t completely understand how it would help find Gemma.
The reporter had picked up on the dead boys in Capri and wrote a little about the brutal murders of four teenage boys. But the story wasn’t about the murders so much as why nobody was covering them.
Even Harper had to agree that the story had been largely ignored. Other than a few local reporters, she hadn’t seen much in the way of media. Which seemed odd, especially since they were labeling it as the work of a serial killer.
The article went on to name several high-profile murder cases that all involved beautiful young women, then speculated why this case, which consisted of multiple murders, garnered so little attention. The writer of the article clearly thought there was some kind of gender bias involved.
Harper was just about to ask Daniel why he wanted her to read this when she realized the answer was in the last few paragraphs.
The murders no longer appear isolated in Maryland. Just yesterday, in a small seaside community 45 minutes south of Myrtle Beach, a young man was found murdered in much the same fashion as the previous victims in Capri.
Thirty-three-year-old Jason Way was found with his chest cavity ripped open in an alleyway outside a busy restaurant. Despite the heinous nature of the crime, no witnesses have come forward as having heard or seen anything.
With this fifth murder of a young man, perhaps the media will start giving these serial killings the coverage they deserve. So far, however, that seems unlikely. Local authorities in South Carolina are hesitant to connect this murder with the previous ones in Maryland.
Jason Way also has a long history of domestic violence, sexual harassment, and a rape conviction, so retribution from previous victims hasn’t been ruled out, a representative for the police force has said.