As they pulled up to the dock, which was hidden among the trees that grew out into the water, Harper breathed in deeply. The island was almost overgrown with bald cypress trees and pines towering above them.
Instead of taking The Dirty Gull into the boathouse, Daniel tied it off at the dock. He’d have to take Harper home in a few hours, and it would be easier this way.
He got off the boat, and held his hand out for Harper, helping her.
“Do you see that?” Daniel let go of her hand to point down at the dock.
“What?” Harper looked down at the warped gray boards beneath her feet. “Does it need to be replaced or something?”
“No. Well, yeah, probably, but that’s not what I meant,” Daniel said. “I mean, do you see where your feet are? You’re standing on the island now.”
“Technically I’m on the dock, and that’s not part of the island,” Harper teased.
He sighed. “It’s close enough. And you remember our agreement?”
“I do.” She smiled up at him. “Once we’re on the island, no talking about sirens or Gemma. It’s just the two of us tonight, without any distractions.”
Since moving out to the island, Daniel had been picking up more jobs to cover the cost of rent, and Harper’d been working extra shifts at the library to save up for college. And whenever the two of them did manage to get the same time off, something with Gemma or Brian or the sirens always seemed to come up. They’d hardly had a moment alone together in the past month.
So Daniel had come up with a plan in which they’d both leave the world behind for a little bit—or as much as Harper could leave it. With everything going on with her sister, she’d never really be able to let go.
“I do reserve the right to leave my phone on and accept any incoming calls, or make any, if I feel it’s necessary,” Harper said.
“I’ll allow it. But only in case of an emergency.”
“Now come on.” Daniel stepped backward but he held out his hand to her. “It’s Friday night, and we’re going to enjoy ourselves.”
She laughed and let him take her hand, his rough skin somehow feeling so perfect against hers. They walked on the narrow path up to the cabin, with creeping Charlie threatening to overgrow the worn dirt path.
The trees were tall and thick enough that the sun streamed through in thin shards. When an ocean breeze blew through the trees, the sunlight seemed to dance on the ground. It was the peacefulness, the odd silence and seclusion of the island, that gave it this wonderful air of magic.
It was so easy to imagine that fairies or other woodland pixies were flitting among the trees, and as a child Harper often had. Bernie had always aided in these fantasies, telling both her and Gemma all kinds of stories filled with fantasy and wonder when they were young.
Once Gemma had found a blue wing of a butterfly. What had happened to the rest of the insect, Harper had no idea, although she was certain that Gemma had done nothing to hurt it. She’d brought the wing over to show Bernie, and he’d crouched down, examining it with careful precision.
“You know what this is, don’t you?” Bernie had asked in his warm cockney accent and pushed up the brim of his hat.
“No. What is it?” Gemma asked. She couldn’t have been more than six at the time, so it must’ve been on one of the occasions when Bernie was babysitting them before their mother was in the accident.
Harper stood behind her sister, watching over Gemma’s shoulder as Bernie gave his explanation. They were behind the cabin, by the roses that Bernie’s wife had planted. He refused to trim the bush or cut it back, so it had grown into the largest rosebush Harper had ever seen.
The flowers themselves were massive and a vibrant purple. Each one was nearly twice the size of her fist, and they were so fragrant. When the breeze blew through it in the summer, the sweet perfume of the roses overtook everything else—the scent of the pine trees, the sea, and even the creeping Charlie.
“This is a fairy wing,” Bernie said as he examined the blue wing, turning it carefully in front of his face. “And from the looks of it, I’d say it was from a Bluebelle Fairy. They fly over the flowers that are about to bloom, sprinkling their dust on them, and that’s how the flowers blossom.”
“There’s no such thing as fairies,” Harper said. Even then she was too old to fall for his stories.
“There most certainly are,” Bernie said, pretending to sound offended. “When my wife was alive, bless her soul, she’d spot fairies all the time. That’s how come her rosebush always has the biggest, brightest flowers on it. The fairies are taking care of it for her.”
Harper didn’t want to contradict him more, mostly because she knew that he was just trying to have fun with Gemma. But part of it was because even though she knew better, she still believed him—or at least she wanted to.
“Gemma knows I’m telling the truth,” Bernie said and handed the wing back to Gemma. “She’s probably seen the fairies, haven’t you?”
“I think so.” She held the fragile wing delicately and stared down at it. “They come in colors other than blue, too?”
“Oh, they come in every color you can imagine,” Bernie said.
“Then, yes, I’ve seen one.” Gemma sounded more confident and nodded her head vigorously.
“Next time you’ll have to point one out to your sister, won’t you?” He had looked up at Harper then and winked at her.