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As soon as Gemma had gotten up, she’d come over to talk with Harper. They spoke some about their parents’ impending divorce, which Gemma was still having some trouble processing. But most of it was Gemma reassuring Harper that she was doing the right thing, and the world wouldn’t end if she went to school fifty miles away.

Harper put her hands on her hips and stared down at the bags. All the clothes she planned to bring were neatly folded in her duffel bag and a suitcase, with the clothes she’d decided against scattered across her bed. Her toiletries had been sealed up in a Ziploc bag so they wouldn’t leak, then were put in her duffel bag.

Her textbooks—all of which she’d ordered online because it was cheaper than getting them through the school—were stacked in a heavy tote next to her desk. Her computer, e-reader, and various chargers were tucked away in her laptop bag.

Everything was ready to go. Except for her.

“Hey, there.” Daniel knocked on her open bedroom door.

She smiled thinly at him as he stepped inside her room. “Hi.”

“You look about all packed.” Daniel surveyed her room. “Am I late? I thought you told me to come over at ten.”

He stood next to her, but he felt oddly distant. There was only a foot between them. When she moved, leaning a bit toward him, he moved away—as if trying to make sure she never got any closer.

The past few days, something strange had been going on with him. Harper couldn’t explain it exactly, because he’d been saying all the normal things and spending time with her. But something definitely felt off.

Then again, that could just be her projecting. Her anxiety and indecision about leaving for college had to have some effect on their relationship, especially since he was a part of the reason she wanted to stay behind.

“No, you’re right on time,” Harper said, deciding to ignore her concerns about him. He’d come over this morning to help her pack and ride with her to Sundham, so nothing between them could be that off. “I woke up early and got a head start.”

“That’s a good thing, right?” Daniel asked.

“I don’t think I can do this,” Harper blurted out, and the thin veil of sensibility collapsed. “I don’t think I can leave. Everybody keeps telling me that I need to do this and it’s the right thing to do, but it doesn’t feel like the right thing.”

“Hold on,” Daniel said, trying to put a stop to her panic before it completely took over. “Calm down a second. You know that no matter what you decide to do, nobody will be mad at you.”

“My dad will.”

“Okay, besides your dad,” he allowed.

“I just feel like if I make the wrong decision, I’ll ruin everybody’s life. I don’t want to destroy my future, but I don’t want to destroy Gemma’s, either.” She stared up at him, her gray eyes large and pleading. “Tell me what to do.”

“Harper, I’m not going to tell you what to do.” He smiled sadly and shook his head. “I can’t. This has to be your decision, no matter what anybody else says or thinks.”

“I know, but…” Harper trailed off.

She knew she couldn’t let anybody else make this decision, and she didn’t really want them to, either. It just felt so impossible to choose. Her heart was being torn in two directions—looking after her sister and her family, or going after the one thing she’d been working for almost her entire life.

“Let’s forget about Gemma for a second. Let’s forget about her problems, or your dad, or your mom, or even me. Forget all of us.” Daniel waved his hands, as if erasing everybody from her thoughts. “What do you want to do? What would you want for the rest of your life, if you didn’t have to worry about anybody else?”

Harper sat back on the bed, carefully wedged between her bags. She stared down at the floor, and for the first time in a long while, she thought about what she really wanted.

“After the accident, my mom had half a dozen brain surgeries,” Harper said. “And after every one of them, me, my dad, and Gemma would be sitting in the waiting room. The doctor would come in and explain to us what he did and how it went. I remember thinking, Wow. That guy knows everything.

“He was so calm and collected, and he made me feel calm and like everything would be okay,” she went on. “Or okay-ish, anyway. I would ask him a million questions about my mom and medicine and all sorts of stuff, and he always answered every one of them. And I knew then and there that’s what I wanted to do.

“I wanted to be him. What he did fascinated me, but more than that, I wanted to have all the answers and be able to save people. My mom is alive because of what he did.”

Daniel pushed back the duffel bag, making room for himself, and sat down next to Harper on the bed.

“Sounds like a good fit for you,” he said.

“Does it make me a horrible, selfish person if I say that I want to go?” She looked over at him. “That I want to do this?”

He smiled. “No, it doesn’t. It’s okay to go after your dreams, especially when you’ve worked so hard for them.”

“But if I’m not here and something happens to Gemma, I’ll never be able to forgive myself.”

“You will be here, Harper,” Daniel said with a laugh. “You keep acting like you’re going off to war. You’ll be right down the highway, and I’m sure you’ll be home more often than you’ll be at school.”