“Why?” Gemma asked him directly.
“Because…” He furrowed his brow, seemingly finding it difficult to think of a single reason why. “I feel so restless when she’s not around, like I can’t get comfortable.”
Gemma knew that Sawyer didn’t really care about Penn, at least not to the degree that he acted. But she thought he’d at least cite Penn’s beauty or her voice as a reason for being so devoted to her.
She wondered what his absence of reasons meant. Maybe Sawyer didn’t like Penn at all. If Penn took away the siren song, he might even detest her. But Gemma would probably never know how he really felt about Penn.
“I know I love her,” Sawyer said finally. “But when I try to think of why, it’s all a blur. All I can hear is her song.”
“If you try to think, her song drowns it out?” Gemma asked.
“Yeah, kind of.” He nodded. “Sometimes it’s Lexi’s, too, but mostly it’s Penn’s. She sings to me a lot. I don’t think she likes when Lexi does.”
“Why do you say that?” Gemma asked.
“She always tells me not to listen to Lexi’s song,” he said. “And that’s really hard to do, because her song is the most beautiful I’ve ever heard.”
“Yeah, I can agree with that.”
Lexi’s song didn’t have the same power on Gemma that it once had. She still felt compelled to sing along with her, but she had no urge to do her or any of the sirens’ bidding. Still, Lexi had the loveliest singing voice Gemma had ever heard.
“Do you think…” Sawyer’s face scrunched up, as if he were in pain. “Does Penn love me?”
Gemma was shocked that he’d even asked her that question, and she didn’t know how to answer. She briefly considered lying to him, telling him the kinds of things she thought he’d want to hear, but she didn’t see the point.
“What has she told you?” Gemma asked, carefully avoiding answering directly.
“When I tell her I love her, she usually just laughs,” Sawyer said. “She doesn’t really say how she feels about me. She just yells at me a lot and tells me I’m an idiot.”
“No, Penn doesn’t love you,” Gemma told him. “She’s just using you. I don’t know if she even likes you.”
She turned toward him to watch his reaction. His blue eyes stayed locked on the view of the ocean, and he looked hurt but not surprised.
“Yeah. That’s what I thought.” When he spoke again, he sounded disappointed, but more with himself than with Penn’s lack of affection.
“She put a spell on you,” Gemma said, trying to ease his sadness. “She’s a siren, and she’s used her songs to trick you into thinking you feel a certain way about her. But you don’t.”
“No,” Sawyer said quickly. “No, that’s not true. I really love her. It’s not some spell.”
“Well, you can think what you want, but it is a spell.” She turned back to the water.
“You really think Penn’s a siren?” Sawyer asked.
“Lexi and Thea, too?”
He thought about it, then asked, “What’s a siren?”
“A siren is sorta like a mermaid, but they can enchant people with their voices, usually men,” Gemma said.
The explanation was longer than that, but she didn’t think Sawyer needed to know all the details. The Cliffs Notes version would do.
“Oh,” he said. “Are you a siren?”
“Yeah, I am,” Gemma said, her voice heavy with regret.
“But you’re not like the others.”
“Because I’m not as pretty?”
“No, no, you’re all pretty.” He waved off that idea. “But when I’m around you, I can actually think. You feel different.”
“I feel different?” Gemma raised an eyebrow. “You’ve never touched me.”
“No, not the way you physically feel. The way you … are, I guess,” Sawyer said. “Your presence when you walk into a room. You feel real. The other girls, they feel like dreams I made up in the night. Or sometimes they feel like nightmares.
“And I don’t know why you said you’re not as pretty,” Sawyer said. “You’re just as pretty as they are, maybe prettier when you smile.”
Gemma smiled. “Thanks.”
“If me and Penn don’t work out, do you think that we could go on a date sometime?” Sawyer asked.
“Me and you?” Gemma laughed. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Why not?” Sawyer asked. “Do you have a boyfriend?”
She kept smiling, but it became pained. Gemma had been trying not to think about Alex that much, since it wouldn’t do her any good, and it still broke her heart a little every time she did.
“Yeah,” she said thickly. “I do have a boyfriend.”
“Then why isn’t he here?” Sawyer asked. “I don’t think I could stand to be away from you if I was your boyfriend.”
“He, um…” Gemma licked her lips and looked down at the beach below her. “He had to stay back home. It’s safer for him there.”
“Oh. You mean ’cause of Penn?”
“Yeah.” She nodded once. “Because of Penn.”
“Do you love him?” Sawyer asked.
“Yeah, I love him.” Gemma laughed again, this time to keep from crying. “I love him so much.”
“Does he love you?” Sawyer asked.
Gemma thought back to the last kiss she’d shared with Alex in the cabin before she’d left with the sirens. It had felt real and true, shooting through her like electricity. Penn insisted that Alex wouldn’t be capable of loving her now that she was a siren, but Gemma knew Alex, and he couldn’t fake the way he felt about her.
“Yeah,” Gemma said finally, with tears in her eyes. “I think he does.” She sniffled. “Sorry for getting so emotional.”
“It’s okay. I probably won’t remember this conversation anyway,” Sawyer said, displaying a surprising bit of self-awareness.
Gemma wiped at her eyes and looked at him. “What do you mean?”
“I can’t seem to remember much of anything anymore.” He shook his head. “Everything’s a blur of images.”
“I’m sorry,” she said sadly. “For all of this. I’m sorry that the sirens are doing this to you. You seem like a nice guy, and you deserve better than this.”