Gemma swallowed hard and shook her head. “No.”
“And you missed Bernie’s funeral,” Brian said, but his tone had softened a bit when he said it.
“What?” Her heart dropped, and she finally looked up at her father. “Bernie’s dead?”
When she’d gone to Bernie’s Island and discovered the sirens there, tearing up his house, she’d suspected that something had happened to him. But she’d been hoping that maybe he’d been knocked out somewhere or had fled the island. Now Brian was telling her that her worst fears were true. The sirens had killed him.
“Yeah.” Brian had his hands on his hips, but his stance relaxed, and he looked apologetic. “He was found dead early last week. The funeral was on Friday.”
“Oh.” A tear fell down her cheek, and she hastily wiped it away. “I’m sorry I missed that.”
“I know how fond of him you were,” Brian said, and he put a gentle hand on her shoulder. “But that’s why you shouldn’t leave like that. You don’t know how much time you have left with the people you care about, so you shouldn’t waste any of that time running away for no good reason.”
“You’re right.” Gemma nodded. “And I’m sorry.”
Gemma was crying softly, so Brian pulled her into his arms, letting her cry against his chest. He kissed the top of her head and held her until she’d calmed down.
“I need to go make some phone calls,” Brian said. “Let everybody know to call off the search, since you’re home and you’re safe. But you and I will be talking more later. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” Gemma sniffled.
“And you are grounded until you turn eighteen,” Brian said. “You are not to leave the house without my permission, and you’re not to have anyone over unless I say you can. That includes Alex. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” She nodded.
“Okay.” He stepped away from his daughter. “But I do love you, and I am glad you’re home safe.”
“Thanks.” Gemma smiled meekly at him. “I really am sorry about all the trouble I’ve caused everybody.”
“Good. Maybe you’ll think twice about running away again,” Brian said. “Now why don’t you go up to your room?”
Gemma ran back to her room almost as quickly as she’d come down. She slammed the door shut and leaned back against it, trying hard not to break down in tears.
She hated knowing she’d scared her dad like that and all the crap she’d put Harper, Alex, and everybody through. She hated it even more that she might have to do it again. If she didn’t find a way to stop the sirens, she’d have no other choice. She’d be forced to leave with them to stop them from hurting someone else the way they’d hurt Bernie and Luke, and the way she’d hurt Jason.
The problem was that Gemma saw no solution. There was no way out of this without somebody getting hurt.
Gemma was still sleeping when Harper left. After Gemma had talked to their dad the night before, she’d stayed in her room. Both Harper and Brian checked on her many times, but each time, Gemma was sound asleep. Whatever Gemma had been up to while she was with the sirens, it had obviously exhausted her.
Harper had slept a lot, too. The twenty-plus-hour drive had been very tiring. But Harper woke up often, certain that Gemma had left again, and would rush across the hall to peek in on her.
Even leaving today had been hard. Harper had called in to work, because she wasn’t ready to leave Gemma for that long. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Gemma not to run away. It was that Harper was afraid the sirens might come and find her.
She’d called Daniel a couple times, and he hadn’t answered the phone. For some reason, that made Harper nervous. With possible revenge-seeking sirens on the loose, she didn’t like the idea of anybody involved with rescuing Gemma not answering the phone.
It wasn’t like she could leave Gemma home alone, though. Harper had called Alex, and he came over to help watch out for her. Since Gemma was still sleeping, Alex got comfortable on the living room couch.
He’d brought his laptop with him, and he immediately returned to doing his Internet search on how to break the sirens’ curse. When Gemma woke up, they both hoped she’d be able to help out, since she knew more about the mythology than either of them did. But for now they thought it’d be better if Gemma rested, and Alex was left to his own devices until she woke up.
Harper thought about warning him that his job was to guard Gemma, not make out with her, but honestly, she didn’t really care much about upholding Brian’s attempt at grounding Gemma, and he was at work so he couldn’t enforce it. Usually Harper would back him up, but this time she understood that Gemma didn’t need to be punished for what she’d done.
Besides that, she didn’t think Alex should be punished. He’d worked hard to find Gemma, so at the very least he deserved to be an exception to the rule. And he could help protect and watch over Gemma when Harper wasn’t around.
Still, Harper didn’t plan on making her trip down to the dock a long one. She just planned to see Daniel, make sure he was all right, thank him again for his help, and then leave. If she could do all that without getting on his boat, that would be even better.
After overhearing his conversation with Alex the other night, Harper had become convinced that she couldn’t be around him anymore. She couldn’t become involved with him, not right now when so much was going on with Gemma, and it wasn’t fair to lead him on like that.
But more than that, things were becoming increasingly dangerous for everyone around Gemma. Harper had seen what the sirens could do, and she had a feeling that if they did find Gemma, and Harper and the others couldn’t stop them, the sirens would seek vengeance on all the people who had tried to help Gemma. That included Daniel.
Or it would, if he stayed a part of Harper’s life. It would be much safer for him if she stopped talking to him.
So today she would just check on him, and maybe tell him good-bye. No, definitely tell him good-bye. She just didn’t know how to word it yet without it sounding weird.
As Harper walked down the docks to where Daniel’s boat was moored, she tried to go over what she planned to say to him. Red, white, and blue flags tacked onto the docks’ posts waved wildly in the wind, preparation for the Fourth of July celebration this weekend.