Lullaby Page 24

Alex and Daniel could easily come up with logical reasons for being at Bernie’s place. Alex had visited with Gemma once, maybe. And Daniel delivered groceries to Bernie.

Both of those excuses would work, and the police would probably go back to pursuing the three unidentified sets of prints in the cabin. Harper seriously doubted the sirens had ever been fingerprinted.

“So are you moving out here, then?” Daniel asked, drawing Harper from her thoughts as she scrubbed milk off the kitchen tiles.

“What?” She glanced back to see him picking up all of Bernie’s books and putting them on the shelves.

“Now that you own the place, I was wondering if you’re going to move out here,” Daniel said. “Is that what we’re cleaning it up for?”

“No, I’m not moving out here.” She’d gotten the milk off the floor, so she stood up and wrung out her washcloth in the sink.

“Why not?” Daniel asked. “It’s a nice place.”

“No, I know. I just…” A strand of hair had come loose from her ponytail, and she tucked it behind her ear. “I’m leaving for college soon. And even if I wasn’t, there’s too many memories here.”

“Too many memories?” Daniel had finished putting all the books back on the shelf, and he moved on to uprighting the coffee table. “Aren’t they mostly good memories?”

“Well, yeah,” she said. “But that last night was…”

She grabbed a garbage bag so she wouldn’t have to talk about the last time she’d been here, when she’d seen Bernie’s dead body and the horrible monsters attacking her and her sister.

“So what are you going to do with this place?” Daniel asked.

“I don’t know,” Harper replied as she filled the bag with spoiled food and the garbage strewn about the floor. “Sell it, I guess.”

“Sell it?” Daniel scoffed. “Why would you do that? Why wouldn’t your dad just move out here?”

“He can’t,” Harper replied. “I mean, I guess he could, but he can’t sell his house, and he can’t really afford the upkeep on two places, especially on an island like this.”

“Why can’t he sell his house?” Daniel asked.

“He has, like, three mortgages on it,” Harper explained. “Nine years ago my mom and I were in a car accident, and she had a ton of medical bills. It was a drunk driver with no money or insurance, so all the bills fell on my dad.”

“Wow.” He grimaced. “I’m sorry about that.”

“It’s not your fault. It’s just the way things are.”

She’d filled the garbage bag, so she stopped to survey the house. They hadn’t even been cleaning that long, and it already looked so much better. It almost looked like when Bernie had lived here.

“It will be so weird to think of somebody else living here,” Harper said, more to herself than to Daniel. “I mean, this is Bernie’s Island.”

“It’ll always be Bernie’s Island,” Daniel assured her. “No matter who lives here, this will always be Bernie’s.”

They spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning up the place as best they could. If Brian did sell it, they would eventually have to get rid of all Bernie’s possessions, but Harper didn’t want to do that right now. She just wanted to get it clean.

The sun was starting to set when Harper flopped on the couch and called it quits.

“I think we did a good job,” she said.

“Are you kidding?” Daniel asked, grinning down at her. “We did an amazing job. You scrubbed a ring out from the bathtub that I’m certain had been there since that tub was installed.”

Harper laughed, but she didn’t argue with him. “Hey, when I do something, I do it right.”

“That you do.”

Daniel sat down on the couch next to her, closer than he needed to, but Harper didn’t say anything. There had been little moments like this all day long, and she didn’t know how to react to them. When he’d hand her something, his touch seemed to linger a little too long. Or when he helped her lift something, he’d reach around her, nearly hugging her in the process.

She kept telling herself that he was just being helpful, the little touches meant nothing, or it was all in her head. But still, every time he brushed up against her she found her heart beating a bit faster.

There were more than a few times when she’d meant only to glance over at him and she found her gaze lingering. Especially when he’d been working in the bedroom.

The whole bed had been flipped over, the headboard smashed, the dresser completely destroyed. Bernie didn’t believe in AC, so it was about a hundred degrees in the bedroom. Daniel had taken off his T-shirt as he strained and lifted the broken wood, tossing it out an open window before he took it to the woodpile to chop up for the fireplace.

Harper had offered to help him, but Daniel had insisted that he had it under control. She’d been sweeping the living room, and she’d found herself stopping to stare at him far more often than she should have.

There was something about the way he looked when he moved. The muscles in his back and arms flexing as he lifted the dismantled furniture. And that tattoo, which Harper had first thought was evidence that Daniel was bad news, she now found so appealing.

It was a thick black tree, with the roots growing out from the waistband of his boxers that were showing just above his jeans. The trunk grew upward, over his spine, then twisted to the side so the branches extended out over his shoulder and down his right arm.

He’d once caught her staring, and she looked down in a flash, blushing, but he’d only laughed at her. Daniel said that she ought to think about getting a tattoo, and then she hurried off to clean something far away, so she wouldn’t be able to gawk at him.

“Thank you for coming out to help me today,” Harper said, now that they were finished and he’d unfortunately put his T-shirt back on. “Not everybody would want to spend their Sunday cleaning up a house.”

“No problem.” He stretched his arms out so one rested on the couch behind her, but it wasn’t exactly around her. “I told you I’m always happy to help.”

“I know, but I really appreciate it,” she said. “I needed to get out and do something instead of moping about Gemma or worrying about her or talking about her with Alex or my dad.”

“Well, I was happy to help you keep your mind off her.” He looked over at her. “And I’ll be more than happy to help you keep your mind off anything anytime you want.”

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