As much as Gemma hated to admit it, she knew Penn was right. So she let out a deep breath and looked up at her. “Fine. What do you want me to do?”
“For starters, get in that ocean and swim before all your hair falls out and your skin starts to slide off.” Penn pointed to the water lapping on the beach.
Gemma wasn’t sure if Penn was exaggerating, or if the next step in her deterioration really would be her skin falling off. But she didn’t want to find out, and she definitely knew it wasn’t in her best interest to push Penn right now.
She got up and walked out into the ocean, giving in to the song that had been haunting her for days. The waves knocked her down, and she fell into them.
When her legs didn’t turn, she began to panic. The familiar flutter of the transformation didn’t come. The waves started pulling her out to sea. She tried to swim and fight it, but she was too weak. The water was taking over, pulling her under, and if she didn’t transform soon, she would drown.
And then, when Gemma was beginning to think it was too late, it finally happened. It wasn’t as smooth or as pleasurable as it normally was. Her legs thrashed for a while before they became a tail.
She breathed in deeply, grateful to be able to again, and then she swam off.
For a moment, all her cares evaporated. Her skin felt alive, tingling with the magic of the water. Even her scalp began to prickle, and Gemma realized that her hair was growing back. All of her aches and pains were washed away.
As she swam, darting around in the ocean like a dolphin at play, Gemma considered running away. Or swimming away, as it were.
She could leave this all behind, Penn and the sirens and the issues with feeding. Thea had told her of Aggie’s plan to die that way, to just swim out to sea and let themselves starve. Gemma could do that. The other sirens would eventually die without Gemma, and this would all be over for everyone.
But then she thought of Alex and Harper. As soon as Penn realized what she’d done, that Gemma had left, Penn would go after them and kill them.
Penn may have been able to kill her own sister, but Gemma never could. She couldn’t even stand the thought of Harper being hurt.
Gemma surfaced, and the sun was completely over the horizon now. She was quite a ways from the shore, but she could still make out Penn’s figure standing on the beach, watching her swim.
That was when Gemma finally understood that Penn was a whole different kind of creature than her. Even when Gemma had been her maddest at Harper, she’d never have even dreamed of killing her. Or anyone, for that matter.
Penn might be evil, but it wasn’t because she was a siren. Gemma would do as she was told and be a dutiful little siren, but she was determined not to let herself become the same kind of monster as Penn.
The funeral was small, but Harper hadn’t really expected it to be any different. Bernie McAllister had planned it himself, long before he died, and he was a simple man, so it made sense that his final wishes would be simple.
After Brian had found out about Bernie’s death, he’d actually called the funeral home to set up something, only to discover that everything had been prepaid. According to the funeral director, Bernie had taken care of it all shortly after his wife died some fifty years ago.
As far as Harper knew, the only family Bernie had was one sister, and she lived in England, if she was even still alive. Bernie had spoken very little of his family, only mentioning his long-deceased wife on occasion.
The service was at the funeral home. Bernie had declined to have a wake, and the service wasn’t very well attended. Bernie had been an old man who kept to himself, and many of his friends had already passed away.
Most of the people there were his former coworkers. Bernie had worked out at the docks for years, long before Harper’s father had started, and according to Brian, Bernie had been very well liked down there.
The poor attendance was probably more a result of it being a Friday afternoon, when it was hard for people to get time off. Brian’s foreman was pretty strict, and it had been a bit of a struggle for him to take the time, but Brian refused to miss the funeral.
Despite the solemnity of the occasion, Brian actually looked better than he had in days. He’d shaved today, and the dark suit he wore looked good on him, even if he looked uncomfortable in it. He always seemed ill at ease in anything other than jeans, but Harper thought her father cleaned up rather well.
Before the funeral got fully under way, people were milling around, speaking to one another in hushed tones. This was the time when they could pay their final respects to Bernie.
Bernie had a closed coffin, and Harper knew why. As hard as she tried to remember the wonderful, warm man he’d been, when she thought of him, the only image that came to her mind was the final one she had of him: his body torn open as he lay bleeding on the island he’d loved so much.
Harper had gone to the front of the room with her father, joining him as he said good-bye to the old man. Brian put his hand on the smooth wood of the coffin, awkwardly rubbing it for a minute before lowering his hand.
“I wish we’d spent more time with him these last few years,” Brian said. He wasn’t crying, at least not yet, but he sniffled and his voice was thick.
“Me, too,” Harper agreed.
Brian shoved his hands in his pockets and shook his head. “Gemma should be here.”
“Yeah. She should.”
Harper had been hoping he wouldn’t bring up Gemma today, but he was right. Gemma should’ve been here.
She didn’t know if Gemma even knew that Bernie was dead. Gemma had been out on the island, but that didn’t mean she’d seen him.
Then a new thought, a horrible, dirty one, wormed itself into her brain. Maybe Gemma had had something to do with Bernie’s death.
As soon as she thought it, Harper dismissed the idea. There was no way her sister would have anything to do with hurting anybody, let alone someone she cared about like Bernie.
But then again, Harper had seen firsthand what the sirens had been able to do, not just to Bernie but to Luke Benfield and the other boys they’d killed. The sirens were evil, so it wasn’t unreasonable to think that Gemma could act monstrous, too.
The service was about to start, so Brian and Harper took their seats. It was a small room in the back of the funeral home, filled with thirty or so folding chairs, and most of them were empty. Since they seemed to be the closest to Bernie during his last years, Brian and Harper sat in the front row.
The pastor gave his brief sermon, then invited people up to say a few words. Harper didn’t think that her dad had planned on saying anything, but when nobody else got up, Brian rose and stood in front of the casket.