Pearl’s didn’t have menus. She had a few specials written on a chalkboard hanging behind the counter, but with everything else, customers were just supposed to know what she served.
“Thank you, Pearl,” Daniel said. “We’d like a few minutes to think it over.”
“Take your time.” Pearl winked at him. “I’ll check on you in a bit.”
“Thanks, Pearl,” Harper said, then turned her attention back to Daniel.
“What?” Daniel asked once Pearl had walked away.
“She paid you in food again, didn’t she?” Harper asked.
He leaned on the table and offered her a sheepish smile. “I did fix her overhead fan, and offers of food were made, yes.”
“Daniel.” Harper smiled and shook her head. “You have to stop letting people pay you in food.”
He shrugged. “It doesn’t happen that often. I have plenty of jobs that pay me in cash.”
“Really?” She was skeptical and crossed her arms over her chest. “’Cause it seems like you get paid in food or gently used sofas or a box of bootleg VHS tapes.”
“That was one time.” Daniel held up a finger. “And it had an entire season of the original Adam West Batman in it.”
“You don’t have a VCR!” Harper countered.
“I’ll get one,” he insisted.
“Well, if you wait long enough, you’ll probably get paid with one.”
“Haha,” he said dryly, but he was still smiling.
Harper relented a bit, uncrossing her arms and leaning forward on the table. “I’m just saying. You have bills to pay, and I don’t think my dad would let you pay him rent in food or videotapes.”
“Don’t worry. I have it covered.” He waved off her concern. “The Paramount job is paying pretty well.”
“How is that going, by the way?”
“Good. It’s coming together, slowly but surely.”
“Good. Glad to hear it.” Harper rubbed at a spot on the table and, as nonchalantly as possible, she went on. “I thought something might have happened. Gemma came home last night acting kind of strange, but when I pressed her about it, she kept insisting that nothing was wrong. She just spent the whole night reading up on the mythology books I brought home from the library.”
Daniel shook his head. “I had to leave early because I was helping Pearl, but everything seemed fine when I was there.”
“Good.” Harper smiled at him.
Pearl came back to take their orders. Harper hadn’t really been thinking about it, so she just got the meatloaf and a cherry malt. Daniel apparently liked the sound of that, because he ordered the same.
Once Pearl had left to fill their order, he leaned back in the booth. He stared across at Harper and sighed.
“This is going against my rule where I said I wouldn’t tattle on Gemma,” he said finally.
“It’s not tattling,” Harper argued. “We’re adults. Adults don’t tattle.”
“That’s kind of my point.” He scratched the back of his head and glanced around the diner. “When I started working on the play, I said I would keep an eye on Gemma, but I wouldn’t run to you telling you every little thing she did wrong.”
“I know. And I’ve never asked you to,” she said. “I don’t need to know everything she does. I just want to know that she’s safe, and I trust your judgment.”
“Well, anyway…” He sighed again. “I didn’t see her much last night because I left early, but tonight, she seemed like herself. She was getting a little flirty with Aiden Crawford.”
“Aiden? The mayor’s son?” Harper asked, her eyes widening a little. “I thought she was seeing Kirby Logan.”
“I think they broke up on Monday.”
Harper scoffed and slouched back in her seat. “God, she never tells me anything.”
“She doesn’t want to worry you. And you tend to react like this when she tells you stuff.” Daniel motioned to her.
“I’m not reacting any way,” she said quickly, but she sat up straighter and tried not to look as upset. “But you were saying something about Aiden. Are you sure he wasn’t just flirting with her?”
“No, guys flirt with her a lot. She usually ignores them. This time she was definitely flirting back.”
“Is this a bad thing?” Harper asked. “I mean, worse than her getting involved with any guy right now?”
“No.” Daniel stared down at the table and pursed his lips. “I don’t know.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know anything.” He paused and glanced around the diner before continuing. “Well, Aiden used to be really good friends with my brother.”
“Your older brother? So you’re saying this Aiden guy is older than me and you and way, way older than Gemma?” Harper was going into high alert, but she did her best to keep her voice even so Daniel couldn’t accuse her of overreacting.
“Yeah. But…” Daniel scratched his scruff and hesitated. “After John died, I didn’t really have any reason to talk to Aiden anymore, so it’s been, like, five years since we’ve really spoken.”
“But when he did run around with John, Aiden was not the nicest guy, and he had a really bad track record with the ladies.”
“Like how bad?” Harper asked.
“I don’t know.” He lifted one shoulder in a half shrug and looked up at Harper. “I mostly heard about it from John, so I don’t know how true any of it is. But I saw one of his girlfriends, and she had a pretty nasty shiner.”
“She got it from Aiden?”
Daniel nodded. “That’s what John said.”
“And now Aiden’s dating Gemma?” Harper asked, and by now she didn’t care at all how Daniel or Gemma thought she should react.
“‘Dating’ is probably too strong a word. And you have to keep in mind that Gemma is, you know…” He gave her a knowing look, trying to remind her that Gemma was a mythological creature capable of enslaving men. “She can handle herself.”
Harper shook her head. “I don’t want her to have to handle herself.”
“I know. But…” Daniel trailed off when he noticed Harper digging in her purse on the booth seat next to her. “What are you doing?” Instead of answering, she pulled out her cell phone. “No. Harper, you can’t call her.”