“We’re, um…” Harper glanced back again at Alex, who hurried to provide a reason.
“We’re, uh, we’re reading … books,” Alex responded lamely.
Harper gave him a severe look, like she thought he was an idiot, and Alex shook his head and shrugged.
“What are you reading?” Marcy asked. When neither of them answered, she bent down and picked up the nearest book, which happened to be called Sirens: Handmaidens of the Sea. “This is what you meant by sirens?”
“Uh, yeah,” Alex said.
“Those really beautiful, creepy girls,” Marcy said, putting the pieces together rather quickly. “You think they’re sirens?”
“Well…” Harper swallowed and decided to answer honestly. “Kind of. Yeah.”
“And they took Gemma or had something to do with her running off?” Marcy asked, her voice keeping the same monotone it always had, betraying neither a hint of skepticism nor belief.
“Yeah,” Alex admitted. “We think so.”
Marcy seemed to consider this for a moment, then she nodded as if it all made sense to her, and sat down on the floor.
“Have you figured out a way to get her back yet?” Marcy asked.
“Not yet,” Harper said cautiously. “We’re still looking.”
Marcy held up the Sirens book. “Have you looked in this one, or do you want me to look?”
“You can, if you want,” Harper said.
“Yeah, that’d be great, actually,” Alex chimed in with more enthusiasm than Harper, who was still a bit reluctant to trust Marcy’s acceptance. “There are a lot of books to cover.”
“Cool,” Marcy said, and opened the book.
As Marcy began to read, Harper exchanged a look with Alex, but he just shrugged and went back to reading his own book. Harper couldn’t let it go that easily, though. She wanted to, but even after actually seeing the monsters, she’d found it hard to believe in them. And Marcy seemed to trust it with almost no evidence.
“So … that’s it, then?” Harper asked.
“What?” Marcy lifted her eyes to look at Harper.
“You just…” Harper shook her head, unsure of how she wanted to phrase it. “You just believe in sirens?”
“I don’t know.” Marcy shrugged. “But you guys seem to, and I’ve never known either of you to be totally insane, so I figure there must be some truth to it. Besides that, I always knew something was off with those girls, and they fit the bill as sirens.”
“Oh.” Harper smiled wanly at her. “Well, thanks for the help.”
“No problem.” Marcy smiled back and readjusted her glasses. “My uncle saw the Loch Ness Monster once, too. So I’m a bit more open to things than you.”
Bewildered, Harper shook her head. “Okay.”
“Not that I don’t appreciate the help,” Alex said, as if something had just occurred to him, “but shouldn’t one of you be at the desk in case someone else needs help?”
“There’s a bell up there,” Marcy said. “And this is more important, right?”
Harper normally took her job seriously, but Marcy was right. And Harper had an awful suspicion that if they wanted to help Gemma, they had better do it soon. Or it would be too late.
Despite the fact that the three of them had spent the entire day scouring mythology books, they hadn’t been able to find out much more about how to help Gemma. But when Harper came home from work, she was feeling better than she had since the night Gemma left.
It was reassuring to have Alex and Marcy working with her, even if Marcy wasn’t all that helpful. Harper wasn’t alone, and that made saving Gemma feel more possible.
That feeling of hopefulness evaporated the instant Harper walked through the front door and saw her father.
Brian stood in the middle of the living room. It looked like he’d walked into the room, then forgotten where he was going or why, so he just stopped. He hadn’t shaved that morning, his eyes had bags beneath them, and his skin was ashen.
“Hi, Dad,” Harper said as she closed the front door quietly behind her.
He looked up at her with a ghost of a smile on his lips. “Hi, sweetie.”
“You didn’t end up going to work today?” Harper asked him.
When she’d left for work in the morning he’d still been home, but Harper had been hoping he’d go in. He didn’t have any paid time off left, and their whole family would be in really big trouble if he lost his job. Not only was he the breadwinner of the family, but his health insurance helped keep Harper’s mother in assisted living.
“I thought she might come home,” Brian said, his normally warm voice sounding gravelly from exhaustion and sadness.
“Have you eaten today?” Harper asked, walking past her father toward the kitchen. “I can make you something.”
“I’m not hungry,” Brian said.
“Come on, Dad. I’m making you something.”
Harper went into the kitchen and opened the fridge. She pulled out lunch meat and mayo, and by the time she’d started making him a sandwich, Brian had wandered into the kitchen and sat down at the table.
“Have you heard from her?” he asked.
“No.” She slathered the bread with mayo and refused to look back at him as she spoke. “You know I’d tell you if I had.”
“I just don’t understand why she’d run away,” he said, with a now-familiar frustration taking over. “She had so much she wanted to do. And she was even dating Alex. Why would she leave? Even if she was mad at me.”
“She wasn’t mad at you,” Harper reassured him. She put the sandwich on a plate, then set it in front of her father, still without really looking at him. “You know this wasn’t about you.”
“But it doesn’t make any sense!” Brian insisted. “I called her swimming coach today, and he said that her times have been amazing lately. She worked so hard for that. Why would she blow it to run away with some stupid girls?”
“She’s sixteen, Dad.” Harper went over to the sink to start rinsing off what few dishes had piled up, just so she’d have something to do. “Teenagers are unpredictable.”
“But you guys weren’t,” Brian said, speaking louder to be heard over the running water. “Gemma may be strong-willed, but I’ve always known what I was getting with her. It’s like the last week she’s turned into something else.”