“Nope.” She shook her head hard. “Uh, no. Um, well, I guess … I was wondering how things were going with Alex.”
He opened the fridge and grabbed a bottle of beer before responding. “At the docks, you mean?”
“Yeah, I was just wondering how he was working out,” Harper said, hoping her dad didn’t see through her attempts at small talk. She couldn’t just tell him about her change of plans for the future as soon as he walked in the door.
“He’s a good worker.” Brian twisted the cap off his beer and took a long drink. “He doesn’t say much to me. He never really did, but now it’s even less. He was always a quiet kid, and weird. Still is. Just quieter and weirder.”
“He’s not ‘weird,’” Harper said. “He’s just … reserved.”
Brian leaned back against the kitchen table. “Do you know why Gemma and Alex broke up?”
Harper lowered her eyes and shook her head so forcefully her ponytail whipped her in the face. “Nope.”
“I feel like it was something bad,” Brian said. “Something happened between the two of them.”
“Maybe it just, like … I don’t know.” She shook her head again.
He watched her for a moment, then said, “I thought she might tell you.”
“No, it’s teenager stuff.” She shrugged. “You know she’s secretive.”
“Yeah.” He took another drink of his beer. “Did she tell her mom?”
“What?” Harper looked up, surprised to hear Brian even mention Nathalie.
“I don’t know.” He looked away, but not before Harper noticed how pained his blue eyes looked. “She always liked talking to her mom, so I wondered if Gemma still told her things.”
“Um. Yeah,” she said finally, nodding. “Sometimes I think she does. She knows Mom will keep her secrets.”
“Yeah, Nathalie will. Whether she wants to or not.” He took a deep breath, then stepped back from the table. “There’s something I want to talk to you about. Why don’t you have a seat?” He motioned to a chair.
“It’s a have-a-seat kind of talk? What is it?” Harper asked, already panicking.
“Just sit down,” Brian said, taking his own seat at one side of the table. “I wanted to talk to you first, before your sister. She’s at play rehearsal tonight, right?
“Yeah, until eight or so.” Harper sat down across from him, literally sitting on the edge of her seat. “Dad, you’re really kinda freaking me out. Can you just spit it out? Are we losing the house?”
“What?” Brian was confused, then appalled. “No, we’re not losing the house. Where would you get that idea?”
“I don’t know! It sounds bad.”
“It’s not bad. You worry too much. You know, you worry more at the age of eighteen than I do at forty-one. You’re gonna give yourself an ulcer or have a heart attack if you’re not careful.”
“Dad!” Harper said, barely able to contain her anxiety any longer.
“All right, all right.” He held up his hand and took a deep breath. “Um … I think I need to go see your mom.”
Harper waited a beat, staring at her father blankly. “You want to visit Mom? That’s your bad news?”
“I told you it wasn’t bad news, but…” Brian wouldn’t look at her when she spoke, and that didn’t help to ease her fears. “I’ve been thinking about a lot of things lately, and I need to see her again before I make some decisions.”
“What kind of decisions? What are you talking about?” Harper asked.
“Harper, I told you there’s nothing you need to worry about. I want to see Nathalie, and I wanted to go with you and your sister. Are you both going this Saturday?”
“Um…” She stopped to think. “Yeah, I think we are.”
“Okay, then. Can I come with you?” Brian asked, finally looking up at her.
“Yeah, of course you can. You can go see her anytime you want. She’s your wife.”
“I know that.” He began to peel the label off his bottle, and more quietly he repeated, “I know.”
“That’s all you wanted to talk about?” Harper asked, confused as to why he wanted her to sit down for something relatively painless.
“Yeah.” He nodded, then lifted his head. “Unless you needed to say something.”
“I do, actually.” She took a fortifying breath before beginning. “There’s something I’ve been needing to tell you…”
“You’re not pregnant, are you?” Brian asked, nearly cutting her off.
“Dad! What? No. Of course not.” Her eyes were wide. “Oh, my god, Dad. Daniel and I’ve been together, like … No. We’re not even … Dad. Just no.” She couldn’t help herself and began to blush.
“Good, because babies are wonderful, but not until you’re ready,” Brian said, sounding relieved. “They’re a lot of work, and you have all that college ahead of you.”
She saw her in, so she said, “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Yeah, I was thinking about maybe holding off another year.”
“Harper Lynn Fisher, you are going to college,” Brian said firmly.
“I know, Dad. I’m just thinking it might not be the right time.”
“Is this about Daniel?” He narrowed his eyes and his expression hardened. “If he’s holding you back, I will get rid of him.”
“Dad, stop. Get rid of him? Are you in the Mafia?” Harper asked in disbelief. “And this has nothing to do with Daniel. I’ve never let a boy interfere with my future before. Why would I start now?”
“Then what is this about?” Brian asked, his tone carrying an edge of confusion and irritation.
“I just think it’s not the right time,” she said simply.
The real reason—that Gemma was a siren—she couldn’t tell her dad. He’d never understand or believe her. And even if he did, what good would it do? Harper was already driving herself crazy with worry. Brian didn’t need to go through that, too, not when there was nothing he could do.
“If it’s about money, Harper, we can do this.” He leaned forward on the table. “You’ve got those scholarships, and you’ll lose them if you don’t go. I’ve got some cash put away, and you’ve got loans lined up. We’ll make it work. You don’t need to worry about it.”