“I can’t. Now go have a seat.”
He put his hand on the small of her back and gently pushed her over to a small table that separated the kitchen from the living room. A tablecloth was draped over it, with two white candles set in the center.
“So how is this gonnna work, then?” Harper asked after she sat down. “You making dinner if you can’t cook?”
“I have a very simple plan,” he said as he went back to the kitchen.
“You don’t have to do this, you know.” She leaned on the table, watching him open the fridge.
“I know. I want to. I wanted to do something nice and normal.”
He took out a large Tupperware bowl. Harper could make out green leaves with red cherry tomatoes on the side, like he’d cut up and mixed together fresh salad greens earlier. He set the bowl on the counter, then went over to the cupboard.
“Yeah,” he said and pulled plates out of the cupboard. “I’ve never really gotten to take you out on a proper date. The one time I did take you out, it turned into a battle with sirens.”
“We’re not supposed to talk about that,” she reminded him.
He smiled. “Right. Well, you know what happened anyway.”
“So … why does this mean you have to cook for me?” She propped her chin with a hand and fought the urge to get up and help him. It felt wrong having someone else wait on her.
“It doesn’t. But it’s something that guys do,” Daniel explained.
“I can cook for you.”
“I know you can. You’ve done it before, and the food was very tasty, thank you.” He smiled at her, then dished out the salad onto plates.
“I can help you, at least,” she offered.
Daniel stopped what he was doing so he could face her directly. “Harper, I want to do something for you. Will you let me do that?”
“Yes. Sorry.” She smiled sheepishly and tucked her hair behind her ear. “I would love it if you made me dinner.”
“So … what are we having?” Harper asked.
Daniel carried two plates over to the table. He set one down in front of her and one at his place across from her. Fresh arugula, spinach greens, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers were the only things on her plate so far.
“Well, I thought we’d start with a salad, with homemade vinaigrette,” he told her. “It’s my grandmother’s recipe, and it is delicious.”
“Ooh, sounds intriguing.”
“It is.” He went back into the kitchen and grabbed a small decanter of the vinaigrette from the fridge. “Then, for our next course, I thought we would have a bowl of Pearl’s famous clam chowder.”
“Pearl paid you in a bucket of soup again, didn’t she?” Harper asked as he sat down across from her.
“She did, but it’s amazing,” Daniel admitted. “For dessert, I have not one but two flavors of ice cream. Is your mind blown yet?”
She smiled. “Yeah, it kinda is.”
“So, yeah. That’s my dinner.” He stared expectantly across the table from her. “What do you think?”
“I think it sounds wonderful, and I appreciate the thought you put into making it. It’s very sweet.”
“Sweet enough to earn me a make-out session after supper?” Daniel asked with an arched eyebrow.
She pretended to think it over. “Depends on how full I am.”
“We could always skip the soup,” he suggested, causing Harper to laugh. “The salad might be filling enough.”
Harper dug in, eating a mouthful of salad, and nodded. “This is really good.”
“Thank you,” he said, sounding a little relieved. “The vegetables are fresh from the garden out back. It was a bit overgrown when I moved in, but I think I’ve got it under control now. The dressing is really simple, and it’s one of three things I actually do know how to make.”
“Your gramma taught you how to make it?” Harper asked between bites.
“She did, yeah.” He nodded. “She passed away a while ago. I was really close to my grandparents. They basically raised me and my brother.”
“What about your parents?” She watched him for his response.
“What about them?” Daniel asked and didn’t look up from his food.
“You never really talk about them.”
“Oh.” He poked emptily at his food for a few seconds before going on. “There’s not a lot to tell. My dad was a drunk, and he wasn’t the nicest guy. He used to beat up on my mom and stuff. He finally left when I was ten. I thought things would get better after that, but they didn’t.”
Harper had been about to take a bite, but she stopped. Daniel hardly ever talked about his family life or his childhood, and she hadn’t any idea that he’d grown up in an abusive home.
“Why not?” Harper asked finally.
He shook his head. “I don’t know. It was weird because my mom was so miserable when he was around, but it was like, after he left, she didn’t know what to do when somebody wasn’t telling her what to do or putting her down.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” she said and took another bite, mostly so Daniel wouldn’t think that she didn’t like his meal.
“It’s okay. Eventually she found someone to fill that void, and they got married. My brother died, then my grandparents died and left her some money. She didn’t see any reason to stick around here anymore, so she and the new husband moved out to Vegas.”