“I sent them home. I’m trying to salvage some of this for other plays or odd jobs, so I figured I might as well do it myself.” He was working at pulling nails out of a fake awning above a plywood doorway, and he looked back at Gemma.
“Want any help?” Gemma asked, looking up at Daniel.
“Sure.” He motioned to another awning.
Gemma had to use a stepladder to reach it, but she had no problem pulling the nails out from the wood. She got the other two awnings down in the time it took Daniel to get one down, and under her breath, she began to hum.
“What has you in such a fine mood this morning?” he asked, referring to the cheerful tune on her lips.
“I’m not…” She paused, hesitant to tell him about Alex, but then decided to go for it and hurried ahead. “I got back together with Alex last night.”
“Oh yeah?” Daniel glanced back at her. “Well, that explains it.”
“That’s it?” she asked uncertainly.
He turned to face her. “What do you mean?”
“You’re not gonna lecture me on how it’s a bad idea or it’s dangerous or how I should be focused on things like breaking the curse?” she asked, and Daniel laughed, surprising and confusing her.
“I assumed you were as focused on breaking the curse as anyone possibly could be,” he said. “And you and Alex want to make a go out of it, then why would I try to stop you?”
Gemma shrugged. “I know Harper would.”
“Yeah, well, Harper tried to convince me it was bad news getting involved with her, and look how that turned out,” Daniel said, turning his attention back to the set.
“Are you glad that you’re with Harper?”
“Yeah, of course I am,” he answered without hesitation.
“You don’t regret any of it? Not even after everything you’ve been through?” Gemma asked.
“No. I mean, yeah, it would be nice if monsters didn’t try to kill me, but the situation is what it is.” He’d pulled enough nails free from the plywood as he spoke. “I’m not gonna stop caring about Harper because things get rough and occasionally really weird. I can’t just stop. That’s not how love works.”
When the wall came down, Daniel took one end, and Gemma the other. But really, she didn’t even need his help, and she ended up carrying it on her own, over to the pile with other scrap wood while he went back to pulling out nails.
“For such a little thing, you’re awfully strong,” Daniel commented, as she walked back over to him.
Harper was on the tall side, taking after their mother that way, but Gemma was fairly short and slender. If she hadn’t been endowed with supernatural strength, she probably would’ve struggled with lifting most of the wood on her own.
She waved it off. “It’s the siren thing.”
“But if I understand this right, you’re not as strong as you can be.” He’d stopped what he was doing, holding a hammer loosely in his hand, and faced her.
“What do you mean?” Gemma asked.
“This form, when you’re human.” He motioned to her. “You’re stronger than the average teenage girl, stronger than the average grown man, too, apparently, but it’s not your full potential. Like when Lexi was that bird thing, she was much stronger than you. Or is that just because she was older?”
“I think it’s a combination of both,” Gemma admitted. “Lexi knew how to use the power she had, and the monster is stronger than our human form.”
“So … why don’t you use it?” Daniel asked.
Gemma shook her head and looked away from him. “It’s complicated.”
“I’m sure it is, and I don’t mean to rag on you, but Lexi almost killed us,” he said without any accusation. “She was actually really close to killing me, but if you had been that monster, you would’ve done a hell of a lot better in a fight.”
“I know, and I am so sorry that you were in that situation,” she said, rushing to apologize again.
“Gemma, I’m not trying to make you feel bad.” He stepped closer to her. “I’m just saying that you need to do everything you can to protect yourself and the people you care about. If Harper had been up there instead of me, Penn wouldn’t have killed Lexi to protect her like she did with me. Harper would be dead now.”
Gemma’d already thought of that, and she swallowed hard. “I know. But you don’t know what it was like. When I was the monster, I wasn’t in control of myself at all. It took me over and I couldn’t think straight and…”
“I know that you hurt someone,” he said softly. “But Lexi seemed in control of herself when she was the monster. And if Lexi could do it, and she was a reckless idiot, you can do it.”
“I know that I need to practice, but I’m just afraid of what could happen when I lose control.”
“You’re stronger than this, Gemma,” Daniel said in a confident way that made her look up at him. “You can get ahold of this, you can be in control of your powers. You just have to try.”
“Like … right now?” Gemma asked.
“Why not? We’re alone in an empty theater.” He gestured widely at the stage. “If you rampage, you’ll break a few seats and tear some curtains. Nothing I can’t fix.”
“What if I hurt you?” Gemma asked.
“How can you be so sure?”
“I just am.”
She shook her head. “I don’t even know how to.”
“How did you make the wings happen before?”
“I was scared as hell.” Gemma remembered the attack at the sirens’ house with perfect clarity. “I thought Lexi was going to kill you, and it just happened. My fingers and teeth have changed before, too, but it’s only when I feel threatened, or I’m really, really hungry.”
“Okay. So recapture that emotion. I can threaten you if you want,” Daniel offered.
“No,” she said quickly. “That doesn’t seem safe.”
“How about this? Think of Penn or that horrible new siren Liv,” he suggested. “And they’re going after Harper or Alex. Hell, they’re going after both of them. Really picture them hurting the people you care about most.”
Gemma closed her eyes and tried to will herself to feel the terror she’d felt before. In her mind, she pictured Liv’s wicked smile and Penn’s shifting into the bird-monster. And then she imagined them going after Alex and Harper, which wasn’t hard to do since she’d already imagined it a hundred times before.