“I can’t just leave.” Harper gestured to the library, which was now almost empty aside from one mother and her child looking through the kids’ books. “I’m working.”
“I can cover for you,” Marcy said, poking her head out from behind a nearby bookshelf. “If you want to go have lunch, I’ve got it.”
Harper sighed. “Thanks, Marcy.”
Of course Marcy had to go and be helpful the one time Harper didn’t want her to be. She knew Marcy was making a concerted effort to be nice, since Harper was going through a rough patch with Gemma missing, but still. This was insane.
“You may not have time to run off with a ruggedly handsome guy like myself, but I know you still have to eat,” Daniel said. “And Marcy says that she has this under control. You have no reason to say no.”
“Okay,” Harper relented, because he was right. She couldn’t think up an excuse, no matter how hard she tried. “But it’s a little early for lunch.”
“We’ll have brunch, then,” Daniel said.
He stepped back from the desk and waited as she prepared to go. When they left, he held the door open for her, and she smiled politely but tried not to let her eyes meet his.
“So, have you heard from Gemma?” Daniel asked as they waited on the sidewalk for a break in traffic.
“No.” Harper shook her head. “Not yet.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Daniel said, and it sounded like he really meant it.
“Me, too,” Harper said, and they crossed the street.
“It’s a terrible situation,” he said. “But I think she’ll get through it and come home. She’s a good kid. She’s tough and can handle herself.”
They’d reached Pearl’s, and Harper grabbed the door so she could open it before he did.
“You always say that,” she told him.
“And I’m always right. You don’t give Gemma enough credit.”
“I think this time I actually gave her too much credit.” Harper slid into a booth in front of the window. “I never thought she’d get into any real trouble, and now she’s turned into some kind of mythological beast.”
“Mythological beast?” Daniel raised an eyebrow and leaned back in the seat across from her.
“Yeah.” Harper glanced around to make sure that no one was close enough to hear, but they were early for lunch, so the diner was pretty empty. “Sirens. Alex and I did some research, and that’s what we think they are.”
“Sirens?” Daniel asked. “The mermaids that sing?”
“Something like that.” Harper signaled him to be quiet because Pearl was approaching.
“How are you doing today?” Pearl asked.
“Good.” Daniel grinned broadly at her, and even Pearl had to feel the effects of it. When he smiled, it was a truly stunning thing. “How is my favorite waitress doing?”
“Better now that you’re here,” Pearl said, laughing a little at her own joke. “What can I get for you two today?”
Daniel looked to Harper, waiting for her to order first. Pearl’s didn’t have menus. She had a few specials written on a chalkboard hanging behind the counter, but with everything else, customers were just supposed to know what was served. It helped keep locals in and tourists out.
“Um, just a Cherry Coke and a cheeseburger,” Harper said.
“I’ll have the same,” Daniel said.
“Coming right up.” Pearl winked at them both before walking back to the counter.
“So.” Daniel leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. “You’re not ignoring Alex’s calls, then?”
“That’s different.” Harper shook her head and stared out the window at the traffic passing slowly by.
“How is it different?” Daniel asked.
She groaned and rubbed the back of her neck. “You know how it’s different.”
“No, I don’t. I can help you. I want to help you.”
“But…” She sighed. “It’s complicated with me and you.”
Daniel laughed a little. “No, it’s really not. You’ve made it perfectly clear what you’re open for right now. I get it. You don’t have time for anything more than friendship. But Harper, I’m not offering anything more than that.”
She bit her lip and tentatively looked up at him. Hearing him say that actually stung a bit, and she was surprised. All this time she’d been saying she didn’t want to get involved with him, and it hadn’t really occurred to her that he might not want to get involved with her.
“Your sister ran off with some weird-ass bird-monsters,” Daniel said. “Can you really afford to turn away somebody that wants to help you get her back? Especially someone that doesn’t think you’re insane for believing in weird-ass bird-monsters?”
“No,” Harper admitted, smirking a little at his description of the sirens.
“Good.” He smiled wider at that and relaxed more in the seat. “So, what’s your plan for finding Gemma?”
“I don’t have one.”
“That’s okay,” Daniel assured her. “We’ll come up with one.”
Gemma woke up while it was still dark out, and she barely made it to the bathroom in time. She leaned over the porcelain bowl, retching up what little contents she had in her stomach. It was Friday, and the last time she’d eaten anything had been days ago.
Once she’d finished throwing up, Gemma leaned back against the tiles of the bathroom wall and tried to catch her breath. Her mind swirled, dizzy and aching from the watersong.
Her skin felt too tight. Sweat clung to her flesh, drying sticky and making it feel as if she were shrink-wrapped.
A shower seemed like the best solution. It wouldn’t completely erase the way she felt, but it might ease her sickness a bit.
Outside, the sky was starting to lighten, and dim blue light spilled in through the bathroom window. Gemma decided to leave the light off, preferring the semidarkness. That would probably upset her migraine the least.
When she turned on the faucet, she kept it cool, even though she still had the chills. The cold sweat left her shivering. But she thought a cold shower might clear her head.
Standing under the spray, she found it hard not to sing. She hadn’t sung since she’d accidentally called to Alex back at her house in Capri, and she’d nearly hurt him. Even worse, it had left him more susceptible to the other sirens.