“So you finally ate?” Penn smiled, walking into the room. She stared at Gemma with a bemused expression.
“I told you she would come back,” Lexi said proudly as she went over to Gemma.
“You did, but she’s a mess,” Penn said.
“She’s fine, you nitwit. It’s not her blood,” Lexi said as she pushed Sawyer away and looped her arm around Gemma’s shoulders.
“Whose blood is it?” Sawyer asked, sounding confused.
“That’s a very good question.” Penn walked up to Gemma, standing directly in front of her. Gemma just wanted to collapse and sob. “Where’s the body?”
“The body?” Gemma asked, dazed.
“Yes, you killed someone and ate their heart,” Penn said, as if it should be obvious. “Now, where is the body?”
“I, um…” Gemma gulped back her vomit and tried to think. “I don’t know. It was outside a steakhouse in town. It happened in the alley next to it.”
“A steakhouse?” Penn turned to Sawyer. “Do you know where she’s talking about?”
“Marcel’s Steakhouse?” Sawyer asked.
“I think so, maybe.” Gemma nodded numbly. “I don’t know for sure.”
“Go clean it up,” Penn directed Sawyer. “Take care of the mess before anybody finds it.”
“His name is Jason,” Gemma told him, as if that would help him find the body somehow.
“Nobody cares what his name is,” Penn said. “Just take care of it.”
“Okay.” Sawyer nodded and hurried out the front door to follow Penn’s wishes.
“I’m sorry,” Gemma said as silent tears slid down her cheeks. “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to go.”
“You did the right thing coming back,” Penn said. “But next time, take the body with you. You can’t just go leaving your scraps around. It makes the humans suspicious, and that’s a headache you don’t want to deal with.”
“The convertible is covered in blood!” Sawyer called from the front yard.
“Then take one of the other cars in the garage!” Penn shouted at him, and rolled her eyes. “He’s so lucky that he’s handsome and rich, because he is a friggin’ moron.”
“He is cute, though.” Lexi squeezed Gemma’s shoulder, trying to reassure her. “We should get you cleaned up, huh?”
“Yeah,” Gemma agreed.
Lexi leaned over, then licked her cheek. Gemma recoiled and pushed Lexi back hard, causing her to fall back into the front closet.
“Did you just lick blood off my cheek?” Gemma cried. She tried to wipe Lexi’s saliva from her face, but she probably only ended up smearing blood on her cheek. “You’re a psycho!”
“You’re the one covered in blood!” Lexi countered, clearly offended by Gemma’s reaction. “I just tasted it! At least I didn’t rip out his heart!”
“Lexi, that really was inappropriate.” Penn looked at her in disgust. “Thea, go help Gemma get cleaned up. When Sawyer gets back, we’ll talk about how we’re going to deal with all of this.”
“Come on.” Thea took Gemma’s hand and started pulling her away. “You’ll feel better once you get cleaned up, and you’ll think better once the food settles.”
“That wasn’t food,” Gemma muttered.
“It’s what you eat now, so it’s food,” Thea countered.
In the upstairs bathroom, Thea filled the bathtub with warm water. Gemma stripped down to her bikini, then climbed inside. The water quickly turned pink as the blood mixed with it, but Gemma barely even noticed.
She pulled her knees up to her chest, resting her chin on them, and Thea sat next to her, rinsing the blood out from the tangles of her hair.
“I’m a monster,” Gemma said quietly.
“We all are, sweetie,” Thea said as gently as she could. She used a cup to pour the warm water over Gemma’s hair and ran her fingers through it. The blood had really matted into it on the drive home in the convertible.
“I don’t even really remember what happened,” Gemma said, wiping at the tears that fell from her eyes. “It’s all kind of a red blur.”
“You don’t remember the first couple times,” Thea said. “You’re not really in control of your body or your transformation. And since you were avoiding eating, you were probably especially out of control.”
“But I … I ate his heart?” Gemma asked.
“That’s what we do,” Thea said. “That’s how we survive. We have to eat boys’ hearts.”
“That’s so messed up.”
Thea laughed darkly. “That’s all Demeter’s sick sense of humor. She was one twisted bitch when she made the curse.”
“I don’t think I can do this.” Gemma hugged her knees tighter as her stomach lurched. “I can’t kill people like this.”
“The good news is that you only have to eat four times a year,” Thea said, trying to comfort her. “Once before every solstice.”
“What?” Gemma sniffled and turned to look back at Thea. “You eat more than that.”
“I don’t,” Thea said. “Not really. Have you noticed how my voice isn’t as silky as Penn’s or Lexi’s?”
“That’s because you don’t eat as often as they do?” Gemma asked.
“That’s part of it.” Thea nodded. “I once went a whole year without eating. It nearly killed me. And now my voice is like this. If I ate more, the huskiness would eventually go away, but I don’t need to eat more, so I don’t.”
“You can go a whole year without eating?” Gemma turned in the tub to face her. “Could you go longer?”
“No, Gemma, it nearly killed me,” Thea repeated. “It was excruciatingly painful, physically and emotionally, and eventually I started going mad. When I did finally eat, I was so out of control I nearly slaughtered everyone around me. You have to eat more than that.”
“If you hurt so bad, then why didn’t you eat?” Gemma asked. “Why’d you go a whole year without eating?”
Thea lowered her eyes. “That’s a story for another day.” She leaned over and reached into the tub, pulling out the stopper so the water would drain. “Why don’t you turn on the shower to rinse off, and I’ll go grab you a towel?”