Up in her room, she’d scour the computer or texts in hopes of being able to translate the scroll until her eyes were bloodshot and aching. Only then would she lie down, hoping for a dreamless sleep.
But first it would elude her, no matter how tired she was, and she’d lie awake, thinking of Alex, replaying every moment with him until she missed him so much she thought her heart would break. And when she did finally succumb to sleep, it would be filled with the nightmares of being trapped underwater and of Lexi dying.
This was her life, and it had never felt so desolate before.
When she pushed open the back door, she’d decided that she would go against Harper’s and her dad’s wishes and sneak off for a night swim alone. She had to do something if she wanted to keep her sanity.
“Gemma,” a voice said from behind her, and a figure stepped out from the wall.
Her eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness, but Alex emerged from the shadows into the illumination from the streetlight that lit up the parking lot behind the theater. He’d been waiting by the back door, and he’d stopped her on her way to her bike.
“Alex?” Gemma asked, and hoped she didn’t appear as disarmed as she felt. She’d just been thinking about how much she missed him, and he’d materialized before her.
His broad shoulders etched a shadow on the ground. When his dark eyes landed on her, the same eyes she’d fallen in love with, she found it hard to breathe. The very nearness of him made her heart swell, and, for once, she found something that blotted out her appetite.
“I was just about to head out.” A relieved smile crossed his face. “I thought I’d missed you.”
“I just took a while cleaning up.” She motioned back to the theater behind them.
“How was the show tonight?” Alex asked.
“It was good. Everyone clapped at the end, so it must not have been too terrible,” Gemma said, and she was pleased when he laughed at her lame attempt at a joke. “Did you see it?”
“No, I wanted to.” He shook his head. “I thought about it, but I was afraid you’d get mad if you saw me.”
“Why would I be mad?” Gemma asked.
“I don’t know. I guess…” He paused, gathering his thoughts, before looking down into her eyes. “I have no idea how you feel about me anymore.”
“Alex. My feelings for you haven’t changed. I’ve never stopped…” She wanted to say loving you, but it seemed too intense, too real, so she lowered her eyes, and continued, “… caring about you. I only ended things with you because it was dangerous, and I didn’t want you getting hurt.”
“I know, but I acted like an ass for a while, and I haven’t been there for you like I should’ve been,” Alex said, sounding angry with himself.
“You weren’t there for me because I wouldn’t let you be,” Gemma said.
“But I should’ve…” He turned his gaze to the sky and took a deep breath. “It’s so dumb because I’ve been standing out here, practicing what I wanted to say to you over and over again, then it’s like every time I see you, all my words just disappear. You make rational thought so impossible.”
“I’m sorry,” she said softly.
“No, don’t be sorry.” He looked back at her, and there was something smoldering in his dark eyes that caused a heat to grow in her belly and her breath to catch in her throat. “What I want to say, what I really want to say is…”
He put a hand on either side of her face, then he leaned down and pressed his lips to hers. All she could do was kiss him back and relish the warmth of his mouth against hers, and the way his fingers tangled in her hair.
When he stopped kissing her, breathing roughly, as he looked at her, Gemma saw her whole world in his eyes. For a moment, he was the only thing that existed in her life, and there was an exhilarating simplicity in that. If only she could just love him, then everything else would be all right.
“I want to be with you,” Alex said, his voice low as his eyes searched hers. “I don’t know if that’s what you want or what’s best for you. And I don’t care if it’s dangerous or what might happen to me. I just want to be whatever you need me to be, whether it’s your friend or your boyfriend or a total stranger. Whatever you need, whatever you want from me, I’ll give it to you.”
Gemma wanted nothing more than to accept his offer, to throw her arms around him and say that as long as they had each other, everything would be okay.
But she knew that wasn’t true. The cold reality of her life, of the monsters she had allowed to take over everything she held dear, wouldn’t let that be true.
Tears formed in her eyes, and she struggled to find the words. “Alex, you know I want to be with you, but—”
“Then nothing else matters, Gemma,” he said firmly. “Not the sirens, not your curse, not even your sister. I’ll do whatever it takes to be with you.”
“Are you sure?” Gemma asked, and she felt her resistance fading.
“Gemma, I’m in love with you, and I have been for … years, probably,” Alex admitted with a rueful smile. “I never stopped, not even when you put a spell on me. Nothing can ever make me stop loving you.”
“I love you, too.” She smiled. “And I promise never to try to make you stop loving me again.”
Gemma stood on her tiptoes and wrapped her arms around his neck. He leaned down, kissing her, and she tried to let herself enjoy the moment with him instead of thinking about the hundreds of ways this could all end badly.
She loved Alex, but more than that, she needed him, and she wasn’t ready to give him up again.
Gemma had meant to go home after the final show on Sunday. She’d made tentative plans with Harper to go for a swim later today, and she was excited to get out and do that. Besides, she’d spent enough time lingering around here last night.
But as she was leaving, she heard the clattering of boards and the sound of Daniel’s grunting. She’d climbed up the back stairs of the theater, so she came up backstage. There was Daniel, in a flannel shirt and ripped jeans, taking down the set.
“Working overtime?” Gemma asked as she walked toward Daniel, her footfalls echoing through the empty theater.
“You know me. I can never get enough.” He glanced back at her with a grin.
“Where’s everyone else?” Gemma asked, referring to the rest of the crew who had been working on the sets and production. Daniel had been the head of it, but he hadn’t done it all alone.