Because in that moment, in those few seconds when her mom was talking about dating Brian, it was like she was a normal mom. Harper was just like any other girl, and Nathalie was just like any other mom, talking about her younger days.
But when Nathalie didn’t say anything else, Harper knew she had to keep the conversation going if she wanted to hang on to the moment a little longer.
“You and … and Brian?” Harper licked her lips and gave her mom a sidelong glance. “You remember dating?”
“What?” Nathalie faced her, blinking. “Brian? Who’s Brian?” She turned around and looked at Daniel in the backseat. “Oh, is that you?”
“No, I’m Daniel.” He smiled at Nathalie, but his eyes flitted over to Harper, checking to see if he’d said the right thing.
“And you’re Harper’s boyfriend?” Nathalie asked.
Daniel nodded. “Yeah, that’s right.”
Nathalie sat back in her seat and shook her head. “I never dated him, Harper. What are you talking about?”
“You said Brian,” Harper pressed on, hoping to help her mom recapture the memory. “You said that when you were dating Brian, you went out for ice cream.”
“I don’t know any Brians.” Nathalie’s tone had taken on a hard edge, and Harper knew that her mom was getting irritated. Nathalie had been known to fly into a rage when she was contradicted. “Are you teasing me? I don’t like it when people make fun of me.”
“No, Mom, I’m not teasing you,” Harper said gently. “I’m sorry. I just misheard you.”
“Are we there yet? This car ride is taking forever,” Nathalie whined.
Harper sighed. “We’ll be there soon.”
For the first time in a very long time, Harper had seen a glimmer of her mom. She knew she was still in there, buried somewhere in damaged brain tissue and misfiring synapses. The woman who had sung to her when she was sick, who had made her school lunches just the way she liked them, and always got her just what she wanted for her birthday, that woman had to still be in there.
And it wasn’t until that moment, when Harper had caught that glimmer, that she realized she’d been hanging on to the hope that her mom would come back. She thought she’d resigned herself to Nathalie as she was now, but she hadn’t.
While Harper would always love Nathalie, no matter what she remembered or how she acted, there was no changing the fact that she still desperately missed her mom and wanted to talk to her again.
Gemma wiped the powder from her face and stared at her reflection underneath the bright bulbs that lined the mirror. The dressing room smelled overpoweringly of roses since Thea had gotten half a dozen bouquets after the last three performances.
They’d just finished up the evening show, so everyone was free for the night. The hallway outside was alive with noise and the excited chatter of all the cast and crew preparing to go out and celebrate. There seemed to be some kind of euphoria that they were all experiencing, a high from a production well done.
But Gemma didn’t feel any of that. In the early show, she had a little bit, when she saw her mother sitting in the front of the theater with Harper, applauding every time Gemma came out onstage. She’d felt an exuberance and pride then, but it hadn’t lasted long.
Now, with everyone bustling around, changing into street clothes, cleaning up, and making plans, Gemma felt like she was moving in slow motion. The world seemed to rush around her, and all she could do was stare ahead vacantly.
She barely even recognized herself anymore, and it wasn’t just the glow of her skin or glisten of her hair from the sirens’ curse. There was a hardness in her expression, and a blankness in her eyes. It was that look—the emptiness that had edged its way into her golden eyes—that she saw reflected back in Thea’s emerald eyes.
And Gemma realized that’s what resignation must look like. And compromise. And loneliness. It was all the small things she had given up, all the little parts of herself that she’d let Penn take away from her, so she could survive, so her family and friends could survive.
If she didn’t break free from this curse soon, then she never really would. If she gave enough of herself away, eventually she’d never be able to get herself back.
“So are you coming or not?” Thea asked, and Gemma became aware that she’d been talking for a while. Gemma had just tuned her out.
“What?” Gemma asked, and turned away from the mirror to look back at Thea.
She’d changed out of her Renaissance costume and slipped into a formfitting dress. Her red hair had been pulled up, and her heavy stage makeup washed off. Then Gemma noticed that it was nearly silent, meaning that most everyone had gone, and she wondered how long she’d been staring off into space.
“What is going on with you?” Thea asked in her low rasp, and narrowed her eyes.
“Nothing.” Gemma glanced down at her costume, the fabric suddenly feeling heavy and stiff, and she pushed back her chair. “I need to get changed.”
“I know. I asked you why you hadn’t changed yet like ten minutes ago, and you never answered me,” Thea said.
“Sorry.” Gemma ran her hand through her tangles of hair and lowered her eyes. “My head was a million miles away, I guess.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Thea agreed.
“Will you help me?” Gemma asked, and turned her back to Thea, so she could unhook the many fasteners of the gown.
“So where was your head?” Thea asked as she began to undo the costume.
“I don’t know.” Gemma lowered her eyes, so Thea couldn’t meet her gaze in the mirror. “Just elsewhere.”
“Were you thinking about the scroll?” Thea asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
“No,” Gemma answered honestly.
She probably should’ve been thinking about it, but she’d been driving herself insane trying to analyze the scroll and now the journal.
There had been a setback with the journal, too, and that helped account for Gemma’s current listlessness. She didn’t want to tell Thea about that, though. Thea’d already gone out on a limb to help, and she didn’t need to burden her with added worry and frustration.
Besides, it gave her plausible deniability. If Penn ever cornered Thea and demanded to know about Gemma’s activities, Thea could answer honestly that she didn’t know.
Since Gemma was busy with the play, and Harper was with Nathalie, Marcy had agreed to take the journal out to Lydia’s so she could try to translate the back parts. When Marcy had stopped by to pick it up, Harper had asked her if she knew anything about one of their big leads on being able to find Diana—Audra Panning.