“No, you’re right on time,” Harper said, deciding to ignore her concerns about him. He’d come over this morning to help her pack and ride with her to Sundham, so nothing between them could be that off. “I woke up early and got a head start.”
“That’s a good thing, right?” Daniel asked.
“I don’t think I can do this,” Harper blurted out, and the thin veil of sensibility collapsed. “I don’t think I can leave. Everybody keeps telling me that I need to do this and it’s the right thing to do, but it doesn’t feel like the right thing.”
“Hold on,” Daniel said, trying to put a stop to her panic before it completely took over. “Calm down a second. You know that no matter what you decide to do, nobody will be mad at you.”
“My dad will.”
“Okay, besides your dad,” he allowed.
“I just feel like if I make the wrong decision, I’ll ruin everybody’s life. I don’t want to destroy my future, but I don’t want to destroy Gemma’s, either.” She stared up at him, her gray eyes large and pleading. “Tell me what to do.”
“Harper, I’m not going to tell you what to do.” He smiled sadly and shook his head. “I can’t. This has to be your decision, no matter what anybody else says or thinks.”
“I know, but…” Harper trailed off.
She knew she couldn’t let anybody else make this decision, and she didn’t really want them to, either. It just felt so impossible to choose. Her heart was being torn in two directions—looking after her sister and her family, or going after the one thing she’d been working for almost her entire life.
“Let’s forget about Gemma for a second. Let’s forget about her problems, or your dad, or your mom, or even me. Forget all of us.” Daniel waved his hands, as if erasing everybody from her thoughts. “What do you want to do? What would you want for the rest of your life, if you didn’t have to worry about anybody else?”
Harper sat back on the bed, carefully wedged between her bags. She stared down at the floor, and for the first time in a long while, she thought about what she really wanted.
“After the accident, my mom had half a dozen brain surgeries,” Harper said. “And after every one of them, me, my dad, and Gemma would be sitting in the waiting room. The doctor would come in and explain to us what he did and how it went. I remember thinking, Wow. That guy knows everything.
“He was so calm and collected, and he made me feel calm and like everything would be okay,” she went on. “Or okay-ish, anyway. I would ask him a million questions about my mom and medicine and all sorts of stuff, and he always answered every one of them. And I knew then and there that’s what I wanted to do.
“I wanted to be him. What he did fascinated me, but more than that, I wanted to have all the answers and be able to save people. My mom is alive because of what he did.”
Daniel pushed back the duffel bag, making room for himself, and sat down next to Harper on the bed.
“Sounds like a good fit for you,” he said.
“Does it make me a horrible, selfish person if I say that I want to go?” She looked over at him. “That I want to do this?”
He smiled. “No, it doesn’t. It’s okay to go after your dreams, especially when you’ve worked so hard for them.”
“But if I’m not here and something happens to Gemma, I’ll never be able to forgive myself.”
“You will be here, Harper,” Daniel said with a laugh. “You keep acting like you’re going off to war. You’ll be right down the highway, and I’m sure you’ll be home more often than you’ll be at school.”
“I know, but what if something happens and I’m a half hour away?” Harper asked.
“Then I’ll be two minutes away, and Marcy will be a second away, and Thea will probably be right with Gemma,” Daniel said. “I’m sure Alex would help if Gemma was in trouble, and we could even enlist your dad. Gemma’s not in this alone, and neither are you. You aren’t taking care of her by yourself.”
“I know.” She licked her lips, and finally Harper made her decision. “Okay. Then I’m going.” She gave Daniel a hard look. “But you have to promise you’ll watch out for Gemma.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said.
“I know that’s kind of a big thing to ask you, since you’re my boyfriend, and we haven’t been together that long, and it’s not your responsibility,” Harper said, speaking rapidly. “It’s not even really my responsibility, but I just need to know that she’s safe, and I trust you.”
“Harper,” Daniel said with a smile, stopping her mid-ramble. “I know. It’s okay. And I would never let anything bad happen to you or Gemma.”
“Thank you.” Harper leaned in, meaning to kiss him, but before she had the chance, Daniel stood up and took a step away from the bed.
“Did something happen? Did I do something?” she asked him.
“No.” He scratched the back of his head and avoided eye contact with her. “Why would you say that?”
“It seems like you don’t want to kiss me.”
Daniel laughed, but it sounded flat. “Why wouldn’t I want to kiss you?”
“I don’t know.” She stared up at him, fearing the worst might be true. “That’s why I’m asking you.”
“I just…” He shrugged and paced the room slowly, walking the length of her bed in front of her. “You know, you’re leaving … It’s an emotional time, and I don’t want to make you do things.”
“What are you talking about?” Harper asked.
“There’s just a lot going on.” He motioned with his hand, making a big circle to represent the “a lot” that was going on.
Her heart dropped. “Are you breaking up with me?”
“What?” His eyes shot up, looking startled, and he shook his head. “No, no, God, no. I…”
She waited a few moments for him to finish his thought, but when he didn’t, she stood up and pressed, “What is it, then?”
Daniel lowered his eyes. “It’s nothing.”
“If something’s happening…” Harper tilted her head, trying to meet his gaze.
“No. I’m just…” He sighed, and finally he lifted his hazel eyes to meet hers. “I’m going to miss you.”