The other day, when she’d practiced shifting with Daniel, things had gone well—for the most part. But since then, she’d been having nightmares about when she’d killed Jason. When it happened, she’d blacked out, but now the dormant memories were resurfacing in brutal images that haunted her nightmares.
The guilt and the hunger plagued her, but Gemma couldn’t let either of those things stop her. The hunger would only grow stronger, so she had to learn to control it, to control her impulses and the monster inside that drove them.
She wasn’t the same scared girl she’d been when she ran off with the sirens in June, and it was time she stopped acting like that.
Her room felt too small to practice any of the larger transformations, so she decided to try things out in the garage.
It was mostly empty since her dad parked his truck in the driveway, behind her dead car. A couple sawhorses, a few old cinder blocks, and a tool chest sat in the middle of the room, and Gemma pushed them to the side, so she’d have more space.
One small window let the sunlight stream in. There were no blinds to cover it, but it faced Alex’s house, so she didn’t think there was a high risk of anybody peeping in to see her.
So with everything out of the way and ready, Gemma focused and tried to make her wings appear.
And nothing happened.
Squeezing her eyes shut, balling up her fists, and trying with all her might did nothing. She even tried holding her breath, and her face had probably begun to turn bright red when a knock at the side door interrupted her, and she started breathing again.
It wasn’t the door that led into the house or the large garage door for the cars, but the door on the side, so Gemma opened it cautiously and found Alex, grinning at her. His hair was damp, and he smelled sweetly of apple shampoo.
“What are you doing here?” Gemma asked him with a confused smile.
“I just got done with work a little bit ago, so I thought I’d stop over and see if you wanted to hang out. Then I saw you through the window.” He pointed to it. “What are you doing out here?”
She wiped the sweat from her brow with the back of her arm. It wasn’t even that warm out, but she’d been straining so hard, she’d begun to perspire. “I was trying to practice transforming, but it hasn’t been going so well.”
Alex leaned on the doorframe and cocked an eyebrow. “Transforming?”
“Like how the sirens change. I can do that, and I need to learn to harness my strength so that I can fight them,” she explained. “I need to be able to stop them if I need to.”
“So you’re gonna turn into that weird monster now?” Alex asked, and he didn’t show any of the fear or revulsion she’d been expecting.
“Eventually,” she admitted. “I want to work my way back up to it. I tried the other day with Daniel, and nothing bad happened, but it’s at the very edge of my control. I thought I’d try with something safer today, like just the wings.”
He nodded and straightened up. “So how can I help?”
Gemma had been hanging on to the door and standing in front of Alex, blocking his entry to the garage, and when he made like he meant to step inside, she didn’t move. “Thanks for the offer, but it’s probably better if I try it on my own.”
“Why?” He shook his head, not understanding. “You practiced with Daniel the other day.”
She looked up into his eyes, trying to get a read on him, and tilted her head. “You can’t be jealous over that.”
“No I’m not,” Alex agreed. “At least not the way you mean.”
“Why on earth would you be jealous? He put himself in danger, and that’s nothing you should want for yourself.”
“Because you rely on him more than you do me,” he told her. In the last month, Alex had gotten much better at hiding his feelings, and he kept his expression even, but his dark eyes betrayed the hurt he felt. “I’m much stronger than you give me credit for, Gemma.”
“This isn’t about strength. This is about my not wanting to do anything that could hurt you ever again.” She stared up at him, imploring him to understand.
“You don’t care if Daniel gets hurt?” Alex countered.
“No, of course I do, but…”
She sighed and stepped back from the door. Alex stayed where he was, standing in the doorway, and she leaned back against a sawhorse.
“You think he can handle it better than I can,” Alex said.
She shrugged. “He’s just been around it more.”
“Gemma, I’ve known you for over ten years. I’ve seen the sirens you’re fighting against. I said I’d do anything to be with you, and I meant it, knowing full well who you are and what you have in your life.” He’d been walking toward her as he spoke, and he stopped right in front of her, so close that her legs were brushing up against his. “I can handle you and your monsters. But you have to trust me.”
“What if I hurt you?”
He reached down and took her hand in his. “I would rather get hurt fighting by your side than live forever a hundred miles away.”
“So you really wanna do this? You wanna be a part of everything?” Gemma asked.
“Okay.” She smiled at him. “Close the door.”
When Alex went to shut the door, Gemma got up and walked to the center of the room. She stretched her neck from side to side and rolled her shoulders.
“I haven’t figured out how to force the changes yet. I’m gonna try to make this happen, but I’m not sure that anything will.”
Alex leaned back against the freezer chest and crossed his arms over his chest. “How did you do it the other day?”
“I was thinking of things that scared me,” she said, remembering how she’d changed in the Paramount Theater. “Terror seems to incite the transformation, like it’s a defense mechanism. But I don’t think it’s good for me to be so afraid, to make the change happen that way.”
He nodded. “That makes sense. Like in the Green Lantern comics, the yellow power harnesses fear, making it unstable and corruptible. You want something purer, like willpower or hope or love.”
Gemma couldn’t help but laugh a little at her boyfriend. “I like how you can bring any topic back to comics.”
“But it’s true, right?” Alex asked. “How many times have you fully transformed into the monster?”