“Shouldn’t you be in bed?” Alex asked with an easy smile.
“Not tonight.” She’d barely gotten the words out when the tears started falling.
Apprehension instantly darkened his expression. “What’s wrong? Come inside.”
“What do you mean you can’t?”
Gemma took a deep breath and swallowed back her tears. “I have to tell you something, and I didn’t plan on telling you, but now that I’m here, and all I want to do is be with you, I have to.”
“The curse isn’t broken,” she said, and her voice caught in her throat.
He didn’t speak or even seem to breathe for a moment. “What are you talking about? You told me it was.”
“I know, but … I lied. I didn’t want to worry you, and I just wanted to enjoy the last few days without everyone’s being all frantic and sad.”
“If the curse isn’t broken, then … what does that mean?” Alex asked.
“There have to be four sirens. When one dies, they have until the next full moon to replace them. Right now, there are only two sirens, and the moon is full.”
He looked past her, staring up at the moon above them, fat and radiant and undeniably full, then he looked back down at Gemma. “But … you’re still alive. It’s wrong.”
“I have until the end of the night, when the sun comes up.”
“Gemma…” He shook his head. “No. Where’s the scroll?”
“I threw it away. I told Lydia I’d give it to her, but I was trying to break it last night, and I just got frustrated, and I hate that damn thing, so I threw it in the garbage.”
Last night, she’d barely slept. She stayed awake, going over the scroll again and again. Trying things she’d tried a hundred times before just to be sure there was nothing more she could do. But, finally, she’d given up and thrown it in the trash can behind her house.
“We’re getting it. We’ll break it,” he insisted.
“Alex.” She tried to stop him, but he closed the window and left his room.
She jumped down from the roof and met him on the lawn between their houses. He went straight to the garbage and dug through it until he found the scroll. And the next few hours became exactly what she didn’t want to happen.
In his desperation to save her, he became fixated on the scroll. They went into the kitchen of her house as he tried everything that she’d already tried, that Harper and her dad had tried, but it was all to no avail.
Sometimes, he seemed to realize how futile it was, so he’d give up and just hold Gemma in his arms. She’d lay her head on his shoulder, relishing the way it felt when he enveloped her. That was exactly how she wanted to spend her last few hours on earth.
Those soft moments together only seemed to drive him on. After a few minutes of holding her, he’d go back to the scroll, determined to break the curse. But he never did.
As the night wore on, Gemma became increasingly weaker. A chill seemed to be growing inside her, a cold that spread outward from her stomach. When she began to shiver, Alex went into the laundry room to find something to cover her up with. He came back with the shawl that Harper had brought home from the sirens’ house, freshly laundered, and he wrapped it around Gemma’s shoulders before he went back to the scroll.
The watersong grew louder. It wasn’t painful or obnoxious, like it had been when she went to Charleston, but instead, it sounded more like a soft lullaby, like the waves were singing her to sleep.
Her life was draining from her, and she could actually feel it ebbing away. It was like she was very slowly losing consciousness, and she knew she didn’t have much time left.
She sat on the kitchen floor, her head resting against the wall, the wrap pulled tightly around her, and her voice came out in a tired whisper. “Alex. I need to go to the water.”
He’d been standing over the sink, dousing the scroll in water, but he turned to look back at her. “What do you mean? Why?”
“I’m getting weak, and I need to be out in the water,” she explained simply. “I just feel it.”
Alex started to argue, but when he looked back at her, his words fell silent on his lips. She was fading away, and she looked like it. The normal tanned glow of her skin had become ashen. Her hair no longer glistened, and she was struggling to keep her eyes open.
He rolled up the scroll and shoved it in the waistband of his pajama pants, then he came over and helped her up. He offered to drive her down to the bay, but the sky was still dark enough. They had time, and she’d rather enjoy the night and walk the several blocks down to the water.
That proved to be harder than she thought, and within a block, she no longer had the strength to walk. Alex scooped her up, holding her to him, and she rested her head against his chest as he carried her down to the bay.
He waded out into the waves, and when he made it deep enough that she could feel the seawater splashing on her, her skin began to flutter. She thought she’d be too weak for it, but it actually gave her a small burst of energy, and as her legs transformed into a tail, Alex let her go.
She floated nearby because she wasn’t ready to leave him, but when the time came, she’d swim as far away from him as she could get. No one told her what it looked like when a siren died like this, but she didn’t want him to have to see it.
The sky began to turn pink as the sun approached the horizon, and Alex reached out, pulling her to him. He held her in his arms and kissed her softly.
“I don’t want to lose you,” he said thickly.
“I should go.”
“No. Not yet.” He hung on to her tighter, and she let him, but only for a second, then she pushed away. “No. Stay. Just a few more minutes.”
“Alex, I can’t.” She shook her head as her tears mixed with the saltwater.
“There has to be something.” He pulled out the scroll, and in terrified rage, he gripped it and tried to rip it in half. But the paper didn’t tear. It was like a thin sheet of metal, and sliced through his finger, leaving a nasty gash. “Shit!”
He let go of the scroll then, letting it float on the water, and Gemma swam over to him. She pressed her shawl against his cut. But instead of looking at his finger, her eyes went to the glowing paper beside him.
Whenever the ink was exposed to water, it would glow a little. But Alex’s blood had dripped on it in large drops, and as the saltwater mixed with it, the ink began to blaze like Gemma had never seen before. The words were actually on fire.