“Yeah, there’s no great tips yet, but I just launched it,” Alex said. “It’ll take a little bit of time to take off.”
“You think people will post if they see her?” Harper asked.
“I don’t know,” Alex admitted. “But I hope they do. They might.” He sighed. “I mean, I don’t know where else to look or what else to do. This way we can get other people helping us.”
“That’s true.” Harper leaned back on the steps. “It’s really good, Alex. I’m glad you thought of it.”
“Maybe she’ll see it,” Alex said, his words softer, as if he were speaking to himself. “Maybe if she realizes how much we miss her, she’ll come back.”
Harper turned away from the computer to look directly at Alex. He wore a worried, heartbroken expression.
“Alex, she didn’t leave because she doesn’t care about us,” Harper said gently. “Or because she doesn’t think we care about her.”
He lowered his eyes, and when he spoke, his voice sounded tight. “I know. I just thought … maybe if she realized how much I care…”
“Alex.” Harper put her hand on his back to comfort him. “Those sirens have done something to Gemma. You didn’t see her leave because you were knocked out, but Gemma didn’t want to go with them. They had something over her, and she left to protect us, to protect you and me, because she cares about us.”
“I should’ve done more,” Alex said, growing frustrated. “I’m her boyfriend. I should be helping her.”
“And you are,” Harper said, then corrected herself. “Well, you’re doing everything you can.”
“It doesn’t feel like enough.”
She let out a deep breath. “I know. I feel the same way. But this is all we can do right now. So it has to be enough.”
Gemma sat on the beach with the sun beating down on her, but it didn’t stifle the chill that ran through her. She’d been shivering all day, and wore layers outside, despite the heat.
Being this close to the ocean was the only thing that seemed to help at all. She sat with her knees pulled up to her chest a few feet from where the water splashed onto the shore, and for once, the watersong in her head was nearly silent.
The sirens were out in the ocean enjoying one of their daily swims, but Gemma refused to join them. Sawyer had gone out with them today, though, and she could hear him laughing along with the faint sound of Penn singing to him.
They were far enough out that she couldn’t see them that well, bobbing above the surface. The sirens kept disappearing underneath, preferring to swim deeper and farther than a human like Sawyer could go, and Gemma kept getting paranoid that they were going to drown him.
She didn’t know Sawyer that well, and she had a feeling she never really would. Thanks to the spell, he’d never really be able to be himself. But he seemed nice enough when she interacted with him, and he didn’t deserve to die.
So when he didn’t come up after a while, Gemma moved toward the water, but he surfaced just before she dove in, laughing and telling Penn how amazing she was. Gemma sighed, then sat back down in the sand.
To Sawyer, Gemma supposed, this all must seem rather magical. He saw them as beautiful mermaids, and their spell never let him question any further. They appeared to be what fantasies were made of, and he was completely enchanted with them. On the surface, it all seemed so beautiful and perfect, but Gemma knew about the dark underside.
While Penn and Lexi played far out in the ocean with Sawyer, who tried futilely to catch them, Thea made her way back to the beach. When she got in the shallows, Gemma could see the scales of her tail shimmering through the water.
Her own legs tingled at the memory of the scales, at the way it felt when her legs became a tail slicing through the cool ocean water. Her body craved the experience, but Gemma denied it.
Thea pulled her tail out of the water without checking to see if anyone might be around. Sawyer’s house was on a secluded beach, hidden away from the rest of the world, so the sirens were free to frolic in the open as much as they pleased.
As Thea’s scales shifted back into flesh, Gemma lowered her eyes and looked away. Thea wore a bikini top, but she was nude otherwise. She grabbed a sari that she’d left discarded on the sand and wrapped it around her waist as she walked over to where Gemma sat.
“You really are a bore,” Thea said, and sat down next to her, stretching out her long tanned legs on the sand and propping herself up on her elbows.
“This is a curse,” Gemma said matter-of-factly, and stared out at the waves. “So I’m treating it like one. I refuse to enjoy any part of it.”
“This curse is your life,” Thea said, looking at her seriously. “And you’re going to live a very long time. You might as well enjoy it.”
“What do you care if I enjoy it?” Gemma asked. “If I want to be miserable, what’s it matter to you?”
“You’re one of us,” Thea replied. “I’m going to be stuck with you for a very long time. And it’d be nice to have someone to talk to that isn’t an insufferable idiot.”
Gemma thought of something, and she turned to look at Thea. The wind blew her long red hair back, slowly drying it of the salty water.
“What about your sister Aglaope? How long were you stuck with her?” Gemma asked.
Thea visibly tensed up at the mere mention of her sister. The sirens hadn’t spoken much of her, but they’d said that Gemma was meant to replace Aglaope. When Gemma pressed to find out how Aglaope died or what had happened to her, the sirens hadn’t been very forthcoming.
Well, it hadn’t been the sirens so much as Penn. Whenever Gemma tried to find out more, Penn changed the subject or brushed her off. Thea had seemed much more open to talking about Aglaope, so while it was just the two of them, Gemma decided to use the opportunity.
“I wasn’t stuck with her,” Thea snapped. “And she’s really none of your business.”
“You just said that I’m one of you now,” Gemma countered. “If I really am, shouldn’t I know what it means to be a siren? That means knowing stuff about the past, about the sirens that came before me.”
“She lived for a very long time,” Thea said at last. “She was only two years younger than me, so she lived nearly as long as I have.”
“She was an original siren, wasn’t she?” Gemma asked. “Demeter turned her in the beginning, and she wasn’t a replacement the way Lexi and I are.”