“Thanks for the pep talk,” Alex said, laughing himself.
“Anytime,” Daniel said. “How far away are we anyway?”
“Um…” Alex rustled the map. “I think we’re almost to Myrtle Beach now, and then it’s roughly forty-five miles after that. So we’re getting close.”
Things were quiet after that, and Harper felt guilty about the way she treated Daniel. She didn’t want to stop hanging out with him, but she wondered if she was being fair to him.
Eventually she fell back to sleep while debating what she should do about Daniel. Alex woke her up when they finally reached the town. The sky was just beginning to lighten with very early morning sun, and Harper stretched in the backseat.
“Stay close to the beach,” she directed Daniel. She let him continue driving, preferring to look around and scope out the area. “They’re probably staying in a house by the ocean.”
“How will we know when we find it?” Daniel asked.
“I don’t know.” Harper shook her head. “We’ll have to keep a lookout for the girls themselves. We probably won’t be able to find their house, but we’ll be able to see them on the beach or in the water.”
“They have that song, too,” Alex pointed out. “We should listen for that.”
They drove around for a long time, with all three of them growing frustrated the longer the search went on. They ended up driving out of town, hugging the coast as the sun rose higher in the sky.
“Stop!” Harper shouted abruptly, and Daniel put on the brakes.
“Do you see them?” Alex asked, craning in his seat.
“No, but that’s the house,” Harper said, pointing to a massive white mansion. It was surrounded by huge rocks, so they couldn’t even see the ocean from the road. The house was set back at the end of a long driveway, partially hidden by trees that filled the yard.
“What house?” Daniel asked, confused.
“The house from my dream,” Harper said, and she didn’t even know how she knew it. In her dream, all she’d been able to see was the room where she and Daniel had been lying together. It didn’t make any sense, but somehow, deep inside, she knew it. “That’s the house that Gemma is in.”
Gemma had probably woken up a thousand times that night. She tossed and turned horribly before finally giving up on sleep. It was still dark out, and based on the silence in the house, everybody else was still asleep.
It was a feeling inside her chest that she couldn’t shake. Like something was happening or something was coming. It reminded her of how she felt before going to bed on Christmas Eve, only mixed with nausea and a touch of dread.
To calm herself, she decided to go out for a swim. In reality, Gemma had been using night swims to self-medicate for years. It was the way she dealt with any kind of anxiety or unpleasant feelings. She’d tried to give it up when she became a siren, but that’d only made things worse.
Discarding her bikini bottoms on the shore, Gemma dove into the cold water, swimming out under the stars.
She tried to explain the feelings away. It was probably residual guilt from feeding the other day.
Thea had tried talking to her more about it, but there was no consolation for her. She knew what she’d done was wrong, and nothing anybody could say to her would change that.
But it was something she’d have to learn to live with. She couldn’t take it back, and whether she liked it or not, this was part of who she was now. It was part of how she stayed alive, and that was what she’d agreed to do to protect Alex and Harper.
All of the water in the ocean couldn’t wash the blood from her hands, but it did calm her slightly. She swam far away from shore, and then floated on her back, letting her tail flick through the water to steady her, and she stared up at the stars above her.
She tried to make out the constellations that Alex had shown her. The only ones she could really decipher were Orion and Cassiopeia. The sun was starting to rise, and soon the sky had gotten too light for her to see them anymore.
When the sky turned bright pink, Gemma decided to head back to shore. Sawyer seemed to get up rather early, and he might alert Penn if he noticed that Gemma was gone. She didn’t want to get in trouble with the sirens for swimming without telling Penn.
She swam back to shore languidly, relishing the water. As much as she hated everything else about being a siren, there was truly something magical and amazing about being able to swim like this.
Gemma had to remind herself to be grateful for it. She might have given up everything else, but she would always have the ocean.
She stayed close to the surface, bobbing up and down in the water like a dolphin. Once when she leapt out, she thought she heard someone call her name.
She stopped swimming and just treaded water, so her head and shoulders were above the waves. And then she saw him, a figure waving his arms on the beach and running out toward the ocean.
“Alex?” Gemma breathed.
Once she got over the shock of it, she dove in the water, swimming as quickly as she could. She needed to reach him before he yelled again or he might wake the sirens, if he hadn’t already. She didn’t understand how he’d gotten here or what he was doing, but she didn’t care. All she could think about was how much she missed him, and how she couldn’t wait to be in his arms again.
Alex had run out into the water, and he’d gone out deep enough for it to crash over his waist when Gemma finally reached him.
They didn’t even speak when she got to him. She pushed herself out of the water and threw her arms around him. She was cold from the water, and when his arms wrapped around her back, they felt hot against her skin.
He held her tight to him and kissed her more fiercely than he’d ever kissed her before. There was this panicked insistence to it, like he couldn’t kiss her deeply enough, and Gemma loved it. She put her hands on his neck, pulling him closer to her.
He was lifting her out of the water as they kissed, and her tail pressed against his legs and stomach. Gemma clung to him desperately, and she never wanted to let him go.
Eventually they had to stop so they could breathe, but Alex still held her close to him. He rested his forehead against hers, his eyes closed as he breathed her in.
“I missed you,” he murmured, and kissed her on the mouth again, more gently this time.
“I missed you, too,” she said, wanting to sob. She’d been so certain she’d never see him again, and now she was afraid that she’d never be able to let him go.