“Only once fully.” She lowered her eyes, and her heart tightened at the memory. “With Daniel, I was almost full, but not completely. I’ve been able to do my hands a few times, and my wings just the once.”
“And each time you transformed, were you scared?” Alex asked.
She swallowed hard and nodded. “I was terrified. I thought I would be hurt or killed, or that someone I care about would be hurt or killed.”
“You were letting fear control you and, in turn, the monster. You need to be the one in control.”
“So I need to just will wings to sprout from my back?” Gemma asked.
He shrugged. “Yeah.”
Gemma thought back to when she’d made her wings come out before. Lexi had just thrown her over the cliff, and Gemma was perched on a rock as the waves crashed around her while Daniel fought for his life against Lexi back up at the top. The wings had been slow to come even though Gemma was willing them to with all her might. It had only been her fear that had finally spurred the change on.
“I’m not sure I can do it. Not without channeling some of my fear,” she insisted.
“If you let your fear motivate you, then you’re not in control. The monster is. And that’s when someone will get hurt.”
“I know, but I don’t know how else to do it.” She ran her hand through her hair in exasperation. “Maybe there is no other way. Maybe the sirens are all just channeling their fear and hunger, and that’s how they morph.”
“You really think Penn is afraid that often?” Alex asked dubiously.
“Maybe not, but she’s probably hungry all the time.”
Alex chewed his thumbnail and stared down at the floor. His bangs fell over his forehead, and Gemma knew that expression well. She’d seen it when he’d been working on homework or struggling with a level on a video game. He wore it whenever he was trying to work something out.
“What are you most afraid of?” he asked finally, and lifted his head.
“You mean besides getting myself and the people I care about killed?” Gemma asked with an empty laugh.
“Which are you more afraid of—dying yourself or other people dying?”
“I don’t want to die, but … It would be much worse if something happened to you or Harper or my parents or Daniel.”
Gemma laughed again. “What do you mean, why?”
“Why would it be so terrible if I died?” Alex asked directly.
“Because.” She didn’t understand what he was getting at, but he was trying to figure out something, so she decided to go with it. “I love you. But that’s not even the worst part of your dying. As much as it would kill me to lose you, the real tragedy of your death would have nothing to do with me.
“You are kind and smart and loyal and amazing, and you have so much that you have yet to experience and so much that you can and will give back to the world. You need a full, wonderful life, and the thought of cutting that short, even by a second, is one of the worst things I can imagine.”
“Then think of that,” Alex said. “If your will alone isn’t enough, then think of love. Not just me, but Harper and your mom. Anyone that means anything to you. Love is stronger than fear.”
Gemma closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She tried to focus on Alex—not on the fear of losing him but on how much she loved him. Thinking of his kisses, the way his arms felt around her, the way he laughed, and she imagined her wings breaking through her skin.
“You can do this. Look at me,” Alex said, his voice firm and confident, and she opened her eyes to meet his. “Gemma. You’ve got this.”
And then she saw it again, the way she had when they’d kissed before. Her whole world was in his eyes. There was only love, and only him, and as she exhaled slowly, she felt it begin. Her shoulders began to itch, then she heard the bones crack and the tearing. Heat seared both of her shoulder blades, and Alex’s eyes widened, and his jaw slacked.
And she could feel them. Her wings spread out behind her, and when she moved them, she felt the air moving through her feathers.
“That is amazing.” Alex was in awe as he stared up at her wings, glistening like copper in the light through the garage window.
She smiled at him. “I did it.”
“You did. I knew you could.”
He grinned and walked over to her. Wrapping his arms around her waist, he leaned in for a kiss, but just before their lips met, he stopped. He pulled his hand back, and his fingertips were red.
“You’re bleeding,” Alex said, and looked down at her with concern.
“Yeah, the wings bleed. And hurt.” She grimaced even though the pain had stopped. “I don’t know why because the rest of the transformation doesn’t.”
He wiped the blood off on his jeans and tentatively reached up to touch one of her wings. When he ran his fingers over the silky feathers, Gemma felt a shiver of pleasure run through her.
“Maybe Demeter thought the wings were too much of a blessing, so she added a little pain so you’d know they were really a curse,” Alex said as he admired her wings.
“So…” His arm was still around her waist, and he smiled down at her. “Do you wanna take these wings out for a spin?”
“I can’t exactly fly out from the garage.” Gemma put her arms around his neck and leaned against him. “Thea and Penn sometimes fly around town, but they’re better at entrancing people, so they forget they saw them. I’d rather not risk having to hypnotize any birdwatchers and sightseers, especially since Capri is overrun with tourists this week.”
“Okay,” Alex said with some reluctance. “But you owe me one flight, okay?”
“You really want me to take you out?” Gemma asked.
“Yeah. Not every part of this damned siren thing is terrible, so we might as well enjoy the good parts while we can.”
He put his other arm around her, pressing her to him. Her halter top had ridden up when she put her arms around his neck, and his hands felt warm and strong on the exposed flesh between her top and shorts.
Finally, Alex leaned down and kissed her. She stood on her tiptoes, trying to kiss him more deeply, but the wings put her off balance. Gemma started to fall forward, pushing Alex back, and instinctively, her wings began to flap, trying to steady her.
The garage was really too small for a wingspan of her length to be able to flap, and she only succeeded in knocking tools off the wall and tipping over a sawhorse. She moved, trying to get away from the more dangerous tools, and she only succeeded in tumbling forward. Alex landed on his back, and she fell on top of him.