Parking anywhere near the beach would be impossible, so Daniel and Harper had decided to walk from her house down toward Anthemusa Bay. The sun was setting when Daniel arrived to retrieve her, and the fireworks were set to go off at twilight.
“So,” Daniel said as they walked down the street.
Neither of them had said much since they’d left her house. In fact, Harper hadn’t really said anything to him, other than “Hello” and “Yes” when he asked if she was ready to go.
“Yep.” Harper smiled up at him, then quickly looked away.
“You wore your hair down today.”
“Yeah.” She self-consciously ran her hand through her long dark hair. “I wanted to do something different.”
“It looks nice,” Daniel assured her. “You look nice.”
“Thank you.” She smiled.
“How did you wanna do this?” he asked.
“What?” Harper lifted her head, instantly afraid she’d misunderstood something.
“Watching the fireworks,” Daniel said. “I thought maybe we could take my boat out and watch them from there.”
“Like out in the water?” Harper asked.
“That’s generally where I take my boat,” Daniel said. “In fact, my boat spends most of the time in water. But I was thinking we’d take it a bit farther out in the bay.”
“Won’t that be all crowded with other boats doing the same thing?” she asked.
“Probably,” he allowed. “But not quite as crowded as the beach.”
They were still a couple blocks from the bay, and they could already hear the noise of the crowd. Every year, while the fireworks went off, a small orchestra played instrumental music. They’d apparently started, and the works of John Williams were echoing through the town. Even still, Harper could hear people laughing and talking over the music. The crowd was going to be intense.
“I don’t know.” Harper stared down at her flip-flops as she and Daniel continued toward the bay. “I think I’d rather stay on land.”
“Are you afraid to be alone on my boat with me?” Daniel asked. “Because I promise to be on my best behavior. Scout’s honor.”
“No, that’s not it,” she said with a laugh, but that was part of it.
The larger part, however, was that she wanted to be closer to her sister if something happened. Being way out on the water, in a boat that had stalled out on her once before, didn’t sound ideal.
“Well, this is your date,” Daniel said. “So if you want to watch fireworks from the beach, then the beach it is.”
“This is my date?” Harper asked. “Not ours? Just mine?”
“Yep.” He grinned down at her. “I’m all yours for the night.”
As they got nearer to the bay, the conversation got easier between the two of them. The awkward date jitters began to wear off, thanks in large part to Daniel. He had a way of making her feel at ease. Or at least he had a way of teasing her until she forgot to be uptight.
The beach was packed, but not unbearably so. They checked out the booths that were set up on the grass first. Most of them sold food or beer, and Daniel offered to buy both for Harper, but she declined. He did buy her a glow-in-the-dark bracelet, even though she insisted it was silly, though she secretly wanted one.
They stopped to watch a juggler. He wore a black-and-white harlequin getup, and he juggled color-changing light-up balls. In the fading light, this became more impressive, especially when he kept tossing more up into the air.
Harper clapped along with the crowd when the juggler threw the flashing lights even farther up into the sky, but she caught a glimpse of something else when she looked up. Three birds were circling above them.
In the dim light, it was hard to make them out precisely, but their wingspan appeared much larger than that of an ordinary bird. She couldn’t tell exactly how high they were in the sky, but as Harper squinted at them, she was certain they were too big to be regular birds.
“What’s the matter?” Daniel asked. He leaned down, almost speaking in her ear, so she’d hear him over the crowd and the nearby band.
“Those birds.” She pointed up at the sky, and glanced back at him. “Do they seem too big to you?”
“Are they ravens?” Daniel asked.
When Harper looked back, the sky had filled with a small flock of black birds. The three birds that she thought she’d seen before had either flown away or gotten lost in the flock. Either way, she couldn’t see them anymore.
“Never mind.” She shook her head. “I’m probably just being paranoid.”
“That does sound like you.” He smiled at her, then took her hand in his. “Come on. Let’s go find a place to sit before there aren’t any more places.”
As Daniel led her away, weaving through the crowd toward the beach, Harper tried to still the butterflies in her stomach. She’d held hands with guys before, and this wasn’t even the first time Daniel had taken her hand.
But something about this felt different. It was knowing that this meant something more. He linked his fingers through hers, and her heart nearly skipped a beat. She felt like a silly little girl again, but she couldn’t help it.
She was too busy thinking about how rough his skin felt against hers to pay attention to where she was going, and she nearly tripped over someone sitting on a blanket. To squeeze by the people, she had to walk among a few cypress trees, letting her free hand run along the bark of a tree as she walked by.
“Be careful,” Daniel said, apparently assuming that she was using the trees to steady herself. “That’s why I got you the glow bracelet. So you can see where you’re going.”
“Glow bracelets don’t give off as much light as you’d think. They’re more decorative than functional.”
“Ah, I understand now,” Daniel said, taking her wrist in his hand. “That makes so much sense.”
She turned to smile up at him, leaning back against the tree behind her, and he let go of her wrist. She thought they’d start walking away, but he moved closer to her. One of his hands was on the tree trunk next to her, the other rested warmly on her waist.
A strange smile played on his lips, and he shook his head.
“What?” Harper asked.
“I just wish you weren’t so beautiful,” he replied simply.
She laughed. “That’s a strange thing to wish.”
“Well, it’s true.”