“Oh, right, of course.” She dug in her pocket for some money. “How much was that? I can give you the cash for it.”
“No, no.” He waved his hand, stopping her when she pulled out a few crumpled-up dollar bills. “I don’t want your money. I want you to have an ice cream with me.”
“I, uh…” Harper fumbled for a reason not to.
“I see how it is.” His eyes flashed with something that might’ve been hurt, but he lowered them before she could be sure. His smile disappeared, though, and he shoved his hands in his pockets.
“No, no, it’s not that I don’t want to,” Harper said quickly, and she was surprised to find that she meant it.
Between his being gracious in the face of her verbal assaults and helping out her sister, Daniel had begun to grow on her. And that was precisely why she couldn’t take him up on his offer.
Despite his charms, he still lived on a boat, and from the scruff on his chin, it looked like he hadn’t shaved in a few days. He was immature and probably lazy, and she was leaving for school in a couple of months. She didn’t need to get mixed up with a slacker on a boat just because he was kinda funny and cute in a grungy sorta way.
“My friend is waiting for me, somewhere,” Harper continued to explain and gestured vaguely out at the crowd. Marcy was probably somewhere eating cheese curds. “I was following her when I bumped into you. She doesn’t even know where I’m at. So … I should go find her.”
“I understand.” Daniel nodded, and his smile had returned. “I’ll take an IOU, then.”
“An IOU?” She raised an eyebrow. “For ice cream?”
“Or any meal of equal value.” He squinted, thinking about what that would be. “Maybe a smoothie. Or a large coffee. But not like a full meal with fries and a salad.” He snapped his fingers as he thought of something. “Soup! A cup of soup would work, too.”
“So I owe you one food offering that’s equal to ice cream?” Harper asked.
“Yes. And the repayment can happen at your earliest convenience,” Daniel said. “Tomorrow or the next day or even next week. Whenever works for you.”
“Okay. That sounds like a … deal.”
“Good,” he said as she started walking away from him. “I’ll hold you to it. You know that, right?”
“Yes, I do,” Harper said, and part of her actually hoped he would.
She weaved her way through the picnic, and it didn’t take her long to find Marcy. She was sitting at a picnic table with Gemma and Alex, which would’ve been nice if Alex’s friend Luke Benfield hadn’t joined them.
Harper actually slowed down when she saw Luke. And not just because things were weird between them. Whenever Luke and Alex got together, they tended to go into computer-geek mode, talking only in tech terms that Harper didn’t understand.
“So when are you gonna make an honest woman out of Gemma here and win her a prize?” Marcy was asking Alex when Harper reached the table.
“Um…” Alex’s cheeks darkened a little at the question, and he rubbed his hands together nervously.
“I told him not to win me a prize,” Gemma cut in, rescuing him from embarrassment. “I’m a modern girl. I can win my own prizes.”
“You probably stand a better chance since you’re the athlete,” Marcy said, popping a cheese curd in her mouth. “Alex looks like he throws like a girl.”
Luke chuckled at that, as if he stood any chance of throwing better than Alex. He twisted the huge Green Lantern ring he wore on his finger and laughed so hard he snorted a little.
“Like you can talk, Marcy,” Harper said and sat down on the bench next to her, across from Luke. “I saw the way you tossed a beanbag. Alex could probably kick your butt.”
Gemma gave her a grateful smile for coming to Alex’s aid. Harper noticed that she’d put her hand on his leg, giving it a reassuring squeeze.
“Where were you, by the way?” Marcy looked over at Harper, unfazed by her comments. “You just disappeared.”
“I ran into someone I know.” Harper evaded the question and turned her attention to Gemma and Alex. “How is the picnic treating you guys?”
“Good,” Luke said. “Except I should’ve worn more sunscreen.” His pale skin seemed to reflect the light, and the red curls on his head were frizzing out. “I’m not used to this much sun.”
“Do you live in a dungeon, Luke?” Marcy asked. “I’m only asking since you’re skinny and pale, and it looks like your parents might keep you chained in a basement.”
“No.” Luke scowled, then pointed to the Canadian flag on her shirt. “I thought Canadians were supposed to be nice.”
“I’m not Canadian,” Marcy corrected him. “I’m just wearing this shirt to express my anti-patriotism.”
“You really are a charming girl, you know that, Marcy?” Alex said.
Marcy shrugged. “I do what I can.”
Since the park was filled with pretty much everybody in town, it had been buzzing with the sounds of talking and music. But somewhat abruptly, the area around the picnic tables seemed to grow quiet, as if everyone were speaking in hushed tones and whispers.
Harper looked around to see what had happened and instantly saw the reason for the silence. The crowd had parted, making way for Penn, Lexi, and Thea, who were heading straight for Harper and Gemma.
Penn wore a dress so low-cut her chest was all but popping out. When she stopped at the end of the picnic table, she put her hands on her hips and smiled down at them.
“How are you guys doing?” she asked, surveying the table.
“Great,” Luke said eagerly, oblivious to the tension that hung over them. “I’m, uh, I’m having a great time. You guys look great. I mean, you look like you’re having a great time.”
“Why, thank you.” Penn looked at him, licking her lips hungrily as she smiled.
“You’re not so bad yourself,” Lexi added.
She reached over and tugged one of his curls, pulling it like a spring so it would bounce back. Luke looked down and giggled in way that was reminiscent of a schoolgirl.
“Is there something you want?” Gemma asked.
Harper noticed that when Penn’s dark eyes latched onto Gemma’s, her sister lifted her chin higher, as if defying her in her some way. Then Harper saw something that made her blood run cold—Penn’s eyes changed, shifting from near-black to an odd golden color, reminding Harper of a bird.