“I love you, too.” Nathalie hugged her back, but only for a second, because she couldn’t sit still for very long.
When Gemma left, Nathalie told all the staff that her daughter was leaving to become a mermaid.
If this was going to be her last night at home, Gemma wanted to make the most of it. She still hadn’t decided exactly what she would do, but she knew she couldn’t stay here anymore.
Even though she didn’t feel it, Gemma did her best to act cheery and happy. She spent the afternoon with her father in the garage, helping him fix her car. They never did manage to get the damn thing running, but that didn’t really matter. She’d just wanted to hang out with her dad.
While her dad got cleaned up, Gemma helped Harper make supper. Since she almost never helped with supper, Harper didn’t trust her at first. But eventually, when she saw that Gemma wasn’t trying to scam time off for good behavior, she warmed to the idea.
Dinner felt like the first family meal they’d had in ages. All three of them talked and laughed. Nobody mentioned Gemma’s recent ill behavior or the serial killer on the loose leaving dead boys in his wake. Those things still hung like dark clouds in the backs of their minds, but for one night, they went ignored.
“Harper, I can get that,” Gemma offered as Harper began loading the dishwasher after supper.
Their dad had retired to the living room, too full of the savory pork chops, and Gemma and Harper stayed behind in the kitchen. Gemma had put the leftover pork chops and red potatoes in a Tupperware container while Harper cleared the table.
“No, I got it. You’re putting supper away.” Harper rinsed off a plate in the sink before putting it in the dishwasher and gave Gemma an odd look. “What is going on with you?”
“This.” Harper waved her hand at Gemma, accidentally flicking a few drops of water at her. “You’ve been sulking around the house for the past week, and today you’re suddenly happy and helpful?”
“I’m usually happy, aren’t I?” Gemma asked as she put the leftovers in the fridge. “And I’m sometimes helpful. It’s just lately I’ve been weird. So today I’m back to normal.”
“Okay?” Harper raised an eyebrow, as if she didn’t quite believe her sister. “What changed?”
Gemma shrugged and grabbed a wet rag from the sink. She went over to the kitchen table and started wiping it off.
“Was it something Mom said?” Harper pressed when Gemma didn’t answer her.
“Not really.” Gemma paused, thinking of how she wanted to phrase it. “I guess I realized that I should appreciate what I have.”
“Mmm-hmm.” Harper had finished loading the dishwasher, so she flipped it on, then turned back to face her sister. “What do you have?”
“What do you mean?” Gemma had wiped the table clean, so she moved on to the counters.
“You said you’re appreciating what you have. What exactly do you have?”
“Well, for starters, I have both my parents.” Gemma stopped washing the counter and leaned against it. “They’re both alive and mostly healthy, which is more than a lot of people can say. I know they both love me a lot, and Dad’s even willing to spend his days off futilely working on my piece-of-crap car.”
“Yeah, Dad’s a great guy. What about your sister?” Harper asked with a playful smile.
“My sister is a bossy, know-it-all control freak,” Gemma said, but she smiled at her. “But I know she’s just trying to protect me and watch out for me because she loves me so much. Probably too much.”
“That is true,” Harper admitted, giving Gemma a meaningful look.
“And sometimes it drives me nuts, but deep down I’ve always known that I was lucky to have someone who cared about me that much.” Gemma lowered her eyes. “I’ve been crazy lucky to have so many people who care about me and to have been blessed with so much … just so much of everything.”
Gemma shook her head and smiled sadly at her. “I just wanted you to know that I know that you’re awesome.”
For a moment they only looked at each other. Harper’s eyes were moist, and for a horrible second Gemma was certain she would cry. And if Harper cried, then Gemma would cry, and it would turn into a big blubbery mess, and she didn’t want that.
“Anyway.” Gemma picked up the rag and started wiping down the counter again.
“Why are you being so weird?” Harper asked, composing herself.
“I’m not trying to be weird.” Gemma had actually scrubbed the counter until it was spotless, or at least as clean as old, cracked laminate could be. But she kept doing it because then she could avoid looking at Harper.
“Is this because of what happened to Luke?” Harper asked, and Gemma stiffened.
“I don’t want to talk about that. Not tonight.” Swallowing hard, she turned back to face her sister and tossed the rag in the sink.
“Okay.” Harper leaned back against the counter and crossed her arms over her chest. “What do you want to talk about?”
“Dad told me that Daniel came over for breakfast yesterday.”
Harper blushed and looked down, trying to get her dark hair to fall in her face and cover it up. But she only succeeded in making Gemma laugh.
“He just stopped by, and we happened to eat breakfast,” Harper said. “It was nothing.”
“Nothing?” Gemma arched a skeptical eyebrow. “Since when has Daniel just stopped by? I didn’t think you even liked him.”
“I don’t,” Harper insisted, but she wouldn’t even look at Gemma. “Why would I like him? I don’t even really know him. And he lives on a boat and doesn’t have a real job. And I barely know him. We’ve barely spoken.”
“Oh, my gosh, Harper.” Gemma rolled her eyes. “You like him, and from the way I’ve seen him put up with your crap, I’m guessing he likes you, too. What’s the big deal?”
“It isn’t a big deal. There’s no deal at all.” Harper squirmed under her sister’s accusation. “He’s nice, I guess, but I’m going away for college—”
“That’s over two months away,” Gemma said, cutting her off before Harper could launch into her going-away-for-college routine. “Nobody’s suggesting you marry the guy. Just have some fun. Summer romance. Live a little.”