Up front, Daniel and Alex started talking, and Harper would drift in and out of sleep, catching bits of their conversation. Most of it was mundane, and there was a bit where Daniel was apparently attempting to explain some kind of sporting event to Alex, and then Harper was asleep again.
She woke up again, and would’ve fallen right back to sleep like she had before, but then she heard her name, and she opened her eyes.
“Harper’s just that way,” Alex was saying. “You can’t take it personally.”
“I’m not,” Daniel said, but he sounded a bit defensive. “Well. I don’t know. I try not to.”
“She’s just a control freak,” Alex said. “And I mean that in the nicest way possible.”
“Is she sleeping?” Daniel asked.
Alex turned to look in the backseat, and Harper closed her eyes quickly before he could see that she was awake. If they were talking about her, she wanted to hear what they had to say.
“Yeah, she’s out,” Alex said. “I kinda can’t believe she’s sleeping. The last week must’ve been really hard on her.”
“It definitely has,” Daniel agreed. “Every time I see her, she just seems so exhausted and sad.”
“Hopefully, when Gemma comes home she’ll feel better,” Alex said.
“Yeah, I hope so.”
The boys lapsed into a silence, and Harper decided to try to sleep again. If they weren’t saying anything interesting, it would be better for her to get some rest. She wanted to be wide awake when they found Gemma.
“How long have you known Harper?” Daniel asked, and the sound of her name perked her up again.
“Um, I don’t know exactly,” Alex answered. “I think, like, ten years or so. Why?”
“I don’t know,” Daniel replied quickly. “No reason. I was just curious.”
“Oh,” Alex said. “How long have you known her?”
“A few months,” Daniel said, then fell silent for a minute before asking, “So … you and Harper have been friends that whole time?”
“Pretty much,” Alex said. “We haven’t been talking as much since I started dating Gemma.”
“How come, do you think?” Daniel asked. “Is Harper sorta jealous?”
“Nah, I don’t think so,” Alex said. “Harper isn’t a very jealous person. I think she’s just kinda weirded out because Gemma’s her kid sister and me and Harper have been friends for so long.”
“But you guys were just friends, right?” Daniel asked. “I mean, it was never…” He trailed off.
“Are you asking me if Harper and I ever dated?” Alex asked.
“Yeah, I guess,” Daniel said, sounding uncomfortable. “Or, you know, if you ever hooked up or anything.”
“No, never,” Alex said.
“Why not?” Daniel asked.
“I don’t know.” Alex sighed. “We just didn’t. It never occurred to us. It’s like asking why you never hooked up with your sister or something.”
“I don’t have a sister.”
“You know what I mean,” Alex said.
“I do, but that’s so … strange,” Daniel said.
“Why is that so strange?” Alex asked.
“I don’t know. She’s a pretty girl, you’re a teenage boy. I guess I just don’t understand how you could just be friends for so long without anything happening.”
“Guys and girls can be friends. It happens. I mean, you and Harper are friends.” Then it finally seemed to dawn on Alex what they were talking about. “Oh. You and Harper aren’t just friends.”
“No, we are,” Daniel replied quickly. “I mean … we … I … It’s complicated.”
“How is it complicated?” Alex asked.
“Well, for starters … I think she hates me,” Daniel said.
“She does not hate you,” Alex assured him.
“Yeah?” Daniel sounded hopeful. “How do you know?”
“You wouldn’t be in this car,” Alex said. “She wouldn’t even let you near her car if she hated you. And you’d know. Harper can be a bitch when she wants to.”
“So, then … what’s the deal?” Daniel asked.
“I have no clue,” Alex said. “I don’t know anything about your ‘complicated’ relationship. But Harper’s not that big into dating.”
Daniel sighed loudly at that. “Yeah, I got that from her.” He turned to Alex. “Was she burned by a past boyfriend or something?”
“No, I don’t think so. She just…” Alex paused, thinking. “You know how nuts she’s going over Gemma missing?”
“Well, she’d be like that if I went missing or Marcy or her dad,” Alex said. “Well, probably not quite as bad for me or Marcy, but she’d still do everything she could to find us. She feels like she needs to take care of everybody. And as much as she loves Gemma and her friends, I think she just looks at a boyfriend as another person she’d have to take care of, and she doesn’t feel like she has time for that.”
“But I don’t want her to take care of me,” Daniel said. “If anything, I want to take care of her.”
“That’s not how Harper works,” Alex said. “If she wasn’t worrying about everyone and trying to make sure everything was all right, she wouldn’t know what to do with herself.”
“So what you’re saying is that I can’t change her mind?” Daniel asked.
“It is incredibly difficult to change Harper’s mind,” Alex allowed. “But what I’m saying is that I’ve never dated her, and I have no idea how one would go about doing that.” He let out a deep breath. “Hell, I don’t even know how to date my own girlfriend.”
“I don’t know,” Daniel said. “I thought you were doing pretty good. Gemma seemed super into you. If she hadn’t gotten turned into some bizarre mythical creature, I’m sure the two of you would be doing just fine.”
“This is just how my life goes,” Alex said. “I have enough trouble dating girls, and now I have to figure out how to date a mermaid.”
“Sorry, man,” Daniel said, laughing a little. “But if anybody can handle it, I’m sure you can.”