Harper appraised him for a minute, trying to get a read on him, before saying, “That’s very nice of you.”
“Why do you sound so surprised?” Daniel laughed. “I’m a nice guy.”
“No, I know that. I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I know,” Daniel said, watching her sip her drink. “So, you don’t usually leave for lunch, and you came to a diner even though you’re not hungry. What brings you here today?”
“I just needed a break.” She didn’t look at him directly, instead focusing on the thick black branches of his tattoo, which crept past the sleeve of his T-shirt and down his arm. “A friend of mine is missing.”
“What’s the deal with you?” Daniel teased. “First your sister goes missing, now your friend.” Harper gave him a hard look, and his smile vanished. “Sorry. What happened?”
“I don’t know.” She shook her head. “He’s more of a friend of a friend, but we dated a few times. And he just went missing on Monday.”
“Oh, is he that kid from the paper?” Daniel asked.
“Yeah.” Harper nodded. “I just read about it before I came here, and I just needed to … not think about it anymore.”
“I’m sorry for bringing it up, then.”
“No, it’s okay. You didn’t know.”
“How is your sister, by the way?” Daniel asked, changing the subject.
“Good, I think,” Harper said, then gave him a rueful smile. “I haven’t even properly thanked you for helping me find her yesterday.”
“You thanked me plenty.” He waved off her apology. “I’m just glad she’s all right. Gemma seems like a good kid.”
“She used to be,” Harper agreed. “But I don’t know what’s going on with her anymore.”
“I’m sure she’ll turn out all right. You raised her right.”
“You make it sound like I’m her mother.” Harper laughed somewhat uncomfortably. Daniel just looked at her and shrugged. “You think I act like her mother?”
“I don’t think you act like you’re eighteen,” he clarified.
She bristled as if he’d accused her of something terrible. “I have a lot to worry about.”
He nodded. “I can tell.”
Harper rubbed the back of her neck and turned away from him. Through the diner window she could see the library across the street, and she wondered how well Marcy was holding up.
“I should probably get back,” Harper said, and she reached into her pocket for her money.
“No, no.” Daniel waved his hand. “I got this. Don’t worry about it.”
“But I thought this was my IOU meal for the ice cream.”
“I was just kidding. I’ll pay.”
“Are you sure?” Harper asked.
“Yeah,” he said, laughing at her guilt-stricken expression. “If it bothers you so much, I’ll let you pay for it some other time.”
“What if we don’t ever eat together again?” Harper asked, eyeing him skeptically.
“Then we don’t.” He shrugged. “But I think we will.”
“Okay,” she said, because she couldn’t think of anything else to say. “Thank you for the Coke.”
“No problem,” Daniel said, watching her as she got up.
“And I’ll see you around, I guess.”
He nodded and gave her a small wave. As she was walking out the door, she heard Pearl ask him if he wanted any pie. Harper went back across the street to the library, and it was very hard for her not to glance back over her shoulder at him.
Part of her penance was helping Harper clean. It actually wasn’t specifically dictated as part of her punishment, but it helped ease Gemma’s guilt over frightening both Harper and her father so badly.
Based on how much Harper complained about it, Gemma thought that cleaning the bathroom was her least favorite chore. So that was the one Gemma had offered to take over. Although, after spending five minutes scrubbing the inside of the toilet, she was really starting to regret it.
When she got to cleaning the tub, she realized that the toilet wasn’t even the worst part. The drain in the bathtub was disgusting. Harper always claimed it was mostly Gemma’s hair clogging things up, but Gemma hadn’t really believed her until now.
Fortunately, she wore thick yellow cleaning gloves, or else there would have been no way she could’ve handled it. As she pulled out a long wet rope of hair that looked all too much like a drowned rat, Gemma noticed something glinting in the light.
Carefully, she picked it out of the tangles, and when she saw what it was, she dropped the wet mass of hair. It was another one of those weird iridescent scales she’d found in her bath sponge. She’d nearly forgotten about the last one. Or at least she’d tried to.
Gemma sat in the tub, leaning her back against the rim, and stared down at the big scale in the palm of her gloved hand.
Something strange was definitely going on with her. Ever since she’d drunk from the flask, something had felt … off.
Not that it was all bad stuff. In fact, Gemma couldn’t actually think of anything bad about the changes at all.
Sure, she’d bitten Alex yesterday, but he hadn’t really been hurt. And while the making out had been different, it hadn’t been bad. Kissing him like that had been fun.
Her body healed crazy fast. All her bruises and cuts had disappeared in just over twenty-four hours.
At swim practice today, she’d had her best times. Coach Levi was totally blown away by her speed. The weirdest part was that she actually had to hold back. She was afraid if she went as fast as she could, he’d think she was on something.
When she was in the pool, that same thing happened to her skin again. That odd sensation that felt like butterflies running from her thighs down to her toes. But it was actually a pleasurable feeling, so she didn’t mind it.
So if it was all good, what was she worried about?
Except … it wasn’t all good. As much as she wanted to brush off biting Alex’s lip, she couldn’t. She hadn’t spoken to him since then, but he’d probably passed it off as a heat-of-the-moment, kinky kind of thing. But it wasn’t.
When she’d been kissing him, she’d been so hungry. It was unlike any hunger she’d ever felt. It was part lust, like she’d wanted to kiss him and be physical with him. But the other part was actual starvation, and that’s why she’d bitten him.