“You need to practice more if you’re going to start flirting with me,” Marcy warned him.
“Okay. What did I miss?” Harper asked as she came in at the end of the conversation.
“Just the beginning of an epic love affair.” Marcy made a rawring gesture at Daniel, who managed to look both startled and amused.
“Anyway,” Harper said to Daniel, instead of addressing Marcy, “my boss will be here soon, so you should probably head out.”
“All right. Sounds good.”
“Thanks for bringing the box, though,” Harper said. “And I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Yep. I’ll be over to help you pack.”
She leaned up on her tiptoes to kiss him good-bye, and he seemed to hesitate a second before leaning down himself. Then, when he did kiss her, his lips barely even touched her before he pulled away.
It was one thing to get a quick peck on the lips, but Harper wasn’t even sure it had lasted long enough to qualify as a peck.
Daniel said good-bye to Marcy, then walked out of the library, acting as if nothing weird were going on. And maybe nothing was. Marcy was right there watching them, so maybe he didn’t want to have any PDA. Or maybe he was just upset about her leaving tomorrow and he was pulling away.
Harper couldn’t say for sure what was bothering him, but by the time Daniel had disappeared down the street, she was positive that he was keeping something from her.
With Harper leaving tomorrow, Gemma wanted to try to show her that she and Brian would be able to handle things without her. Even without all the siren business, Gemma knew that Harper would be freaking out about leaving. So Gemma wanted to put her mind at ease as best she could.
She’d spent all day doing the chores her sister normally did. Theoretically, Gemma was supposed to share the load, but Harper usually got to them before Gemma could.
Brian arrived home from work shortly before Harper did, and he went out back to start the grill. The end of summer was approaching, and he wanted to have a cookout for their last real family meal together.
He cracked a beer open, then stood out back, flipping burgers and brats. Harper sat outside with him, talking about her plans for the future, and that gave Gemma a chance to finish up a few of the tasks she’d left undone.
All day long she’d been working on laundry. The last load was mostly her dad’s clothes, and she went into his room upstairs to put them away. Brian’s room wasn’t off-limits. He left the door open almost all the time, but Gemma hardly ever had any reason to go in there.
The curtains were drawn, so his bedroom was rather dark. The bed was made, and Gemma wasn’t surprised to see the same bedspread he’d had for the past ten years. Nathalie had bought it before her accident, and though it was getting worn and ratty, Brian had never bothered to replace it.
Gemma sat the laundry basket down on his bed and opened up the closet. Most of the clothes inside were his—the few nice shirts he had, old T-shirts, and flannel. But a couple things that belonged to her mom still hung there.
She pushed Brian’s stuff to the side so she could get a better look at Nathalie’s. The wedding dress hung in a clear plastic bag that was supposed to protect it, but the train looked yellowed. Some of the pearls in the bodice had come loose.
The blue dress that Nathalie had worn in A Streetcar Named Desire hung without protection, and Gemma reached out to touch it. The fabric felt rough but thin. She pulled it out and held it in front of her.
The only mirror in the room was above the dresser, and Gemma turned so she could see how it would look on her. Nathalie was taller than Gemma, so the dress was a little long, and Gemma was a bit thinner. Otherwise, it looked about right.
“Gemma!” Brian called from downstairs. “Supper is done!”
“I’ll be right down!” she shouted.
She took another minute to admire her reflection with the dress, and wondered what her mom would make of all this. If Nathalie were around, would Gemma have become a siren? Would Harper have become so neurotic? Would everything have turned out so much better?
Those were questions that Gemma could never know the answers to. So she hung the dress back up, closed the closet door, and left her dad’s clothes on the bed.
“We’re gonna eat inside tonight,” Brian said when Gemma came into the kitchen. “I was planning on us eating out in the backyard, but the heat is ridiculous. The dog days of summer are really here.”
“Yeah, it’s been really hot the last few days,” Harper said as she set bottles of ketchup and mustard on the table.
For the next few minutes they got settled and loaded their plates up with meat and potato chips. Brian took long drinks from his beer, while Harper and Gemma sipped their soda, none of them saying anything.
“Are you all ready for tomorrow, then, Harper?” Brian asked, breaking the silence.
“Not completely. But almost,” she said between bites. “I still have packing to do, but I should be done by tomorrow.”
“Good.” He nodded. “I thought I would take a half day tomorrow, help you get everything loaded up, then all of us could drive up to Sundham and make sure everything gets squared away.”
“That sounds good,” Harper said. “I know that Daniel had wanted to come. Do you think it’d be okay if he rode back with you guys? He’d ride up there with me.”
“Um, yeah.” Brian thought for a minute, then nodded. “Yeah. That should be fine.” He looked across the table at Gemma. “Does that sound okay with you? You’ll have to sit with him in the truck.”
“It’s fine by me,” Gemma said. “Daniel doesn’t bite.”
“I should hope not,” Brian said, almost under his breath.
“So…” Harper said when they lapsed into silence again. Gemma was barely touching her food, preferring to munch on chips instead of really eating. “It’s the last family dinner. For a while anyway.”
“Yep.” Brian smiled at Gemma. “It’s just me and you now, kid. Think you can handle it?”
“Yeah.” Gemma smiled back at him.
“I think we’ll manage,” he assured them with a lopsided grin.
The conversation ran dry again. While they weren’t the most chatty family on the planet, they usually talked freely. The tension of things to come was bearing down on them, though, and it was hard to make cheerful small talk.
“Part of the reason I wanted this dinner tonight was because Harper is leaving tomorrow,” Brian said, his eyes fixed down on his half-empty plate. “But that’s not the only reason. I knew this was my last chance to talk to you girls together for a while, and, um … I needed to talk.”