“Hello?” Alex asked, sounding bemused as she stared dumbly up at him.
“Hey,” Gemma said with a dopey smile. “Hi. I hope you don’t mind that I stopped by.”
“No, of course not.” He grinned, his whole face lighting up, and he stepped aside. “Come on in.”
“Are you sure?” Gemma hesitated before entering, but he gestured widely to his house.
“Yeah. I’ve been meaning to talk to you,” he said.
“You have?” Gemma asked uncertainly as she slid past him.
“Yeah.” Alex walked toward the living room, so she followed him, and he looked back over his shoulder as he talked to her. “I mean, I talked to Harper when she was still in town, and she kinda updated me on everything that’s going on with you.”
“Did she?” Gemma asked. “That’s good. I think.”
Daniel had borrowed Alex’s car last week, then used it in an attempt to rescue Gemma, and he’d gotten it bogged down with mud. Harper and Daniel had returned the car to Alex and helped clean it up.
Gemma had wanted to help, but she was afraid that things would still be weird, so she’d focused on trying to translate the scroll while Harper had filled Alex in on all the goings-on with the sirens.
“So what did you want to talk to me about?” Gemma asked.
Alex motioned for her to sit down, and she sat tentatively on the couch. He remained standing for a few more seconds, then sat down at the other end.
“I didn’t like the way we left things last week,” he said finally. “But I didn’t want to bother you with stupid drama.”
“You’re not bothering me,” Gemma said quickly.
He smiled crookedly and stared off at the brick fireplace in the corner. His mother had decorated the living room in shabby chic, and the couch was covered in a weird, flowery pink fabric. Grade-school pictures of Alex hung in frames made of reclaimed wood.
Gemma let her eyes linger on a picture of him when he was twelve. His cowlick had been atrocious, but even then, there’d been something cute about him. He’d walked her home from school in the rain once, when Harper had been sick.
He’d been in middle school at the time, but he walked over to the grade school to get her because he had an umbrella, and he didn’t think that Gemma would. That might have been the very early beginnings of her crush on him.
“I don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to do, anymore.” Alex ran a hand through his hair and looked over at Gemma.
“What do you mean?”
“With you. I’m not your boyfriend, and I don’t even…” He shook his head. “I just wanted to tell you that I worry about you, and if you need me—for anything—I’ll be there in a second. I want to help you.”
She smiled at him. “Thank you.”
“Sorry, I’ve been talking, and you came over here to say something. Sorry. Go ahead.”
“No, it’s okay,” she said. “I wanted to check up on you.”
“On me?” He was taken aback. “Why?”
“Because of how things went the last time we talked.”
His face paled for a moment. “I’m sorry for yelling at you.”
“No, you had every right to,” Gemma said.
“No, I didn’t.” He shook his head. “I was angry, and I was hurt, but I know that whatever you did, you did it because you cared about me. You were doing what you thought was best to protect me.”
“I really did, Alex.” She met his eyes when she said it, hoping to convey her sincerity. “I really hope you understand that. Everything I did, I did because I—I cared about you.”
“I know that. And even then, I think I knew that. I was just in such a fog of confusion and misery and just … bleakness. But I shouldn’t have lashed out at you like that. It was uncalled for, and I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I understand,” she said. “You’ve been going through something terrible, and it’s my fault. You should be mad at me. I did something major to you without even asking.”
“Gemma, it’s okay. I’m okay,” he reassured her.
“You do seem to be doing so much better than the last time I saw you.”
It wasn’t just the look in his eyes, the way he looked more like himself—although that was a big part of it. Alex just seemed relaxed and calmer. Before, he’d been so brooding and angsty, but now, there was a lightness about him again.
“I’m feeling so much better,” Alex said with a relieved smile. “It’s like this fog has been lifted, you know?”
“I’m glad to hear it,” she said, and she meant it.
But what she didn’t dare ask was why? Not because she didn’t want to know but because she was afraid of what the answer might be.
When she’d used the siren song on Alex, it had been to make him stop loving her. And he had. Or at least it appeared that way, but it had also caused him to spiral into despair and anger.
Now he was better. He should still be trapped under the spell, and though she was very happy that he wasn’t, Gemma didn’t know how to explain it. The siren curse hadn’t been broken, so the song should still have an effect on him.
Unless he didn’t love her anymore. Maybe it wasn’t the song itself that hurt him but the fact that it conflicted with his own feelings for her. And if he stopped loving her, the conflict would disappear.
“I’m not like happy happy, but I’m closer than I’ve been in a while,” Alex went on with the same broad smile.
“I will find a way to get you all the way back to normal,” she promised him, forcing back the lump in her throat. “I’m going to find a way to undo the curse, then that will set you free, too.”
Or at least that was her plan. From what Lydia had told her, and from Thea’s story about Asterion and the minotaurs, once the curse was broken, it was like it had never existed. With Asterion, that meant that the immortality the curse had given him along with his bullhead had been taken away, and since he was centuries old, he’d turned into dust.
Although no one had explicitly stated it, Gemma hoped that if the siren curse was broken, any enchantments of their siren song would be lifted as well. She didn’t know for sure if breaking the curse would only affect the cursed themselves—so Thea and Penn would turn to dust, but all of the siren spells would still live on—but she hoped it would erase everything, including the spell she put on Alex.