“When you say you don’t want me to have my heart ripped out, do you mean that metaphorically or literally?” Daniel asked.
“Maybe both,” she admitted. “’Bye, Daniel. And thank you in advance for understanding.”
He gave her a small wave before she turned and darted out of the boat. She had to climb over the rail to get back to the dock, and she practically fell in the water again, but there was no way she was asking for his help.
Once she was safely on the dock, she walked quickly back to her car, nearly jogging, and the entire time she had to fight not to cry.
Harper sat on her bed, watching intently as Gemma spoke. Gemma sat curled up at the other end of the bed, holding Harper’s worn-out old teddy bear in her arms. If they hadn’t been talking about monsters and murders, it would’ve reminded Gemma of the late-night girl talks that she and Harper used to have.
When Harper came home a few hours ago from whatever errand she’d done, she’d looked rather sad. Gemma had tried to talk to her about it, but Harper wouldn’t have it. Harper sent Alex home and insisted that the two of them really talk about what was going on. Not just because Harper wanted to understand what Gemma had been through, but because she was hoping it might help them figure out a way to break the sirens’ curse.
Gemma had been happy to tell Harper, even if it hadn’t been necessary for giving her more information. It was such a relief to be able to talk to someone about the crazy stuff that had been going on. It was like a giant rock had been lifted from her chest, and Gemma could finally breathe again.
Gemma started from the beginning and told Harper everything she knew. About how the sirens had tricked her into drinking out of the flask, and how turning into the mermaid form felt amazing. When she told Harper exactly what was in the flask, Harper paled, but Gemma pressed on.
She explained the curse as best she could—about why Demeter had punished the girls, so now they were stuck together, shifting between mermaid form and bird-monster. She told Harper why she’d left, about what had happened at Bernie’s Island, how she didn’t know Bernie was dead then, but she knew she had to do whatever it took to protect Alex and Harper.
She told Harper about the way things had been at Sawyer’s house, and how she’d been so sick at first that her hair had been falling out. She even told her about the weird hunger lust she’d felt, and how she’d lost control for a moment and kissed Sawyer.
There were only two things she left out of the story. Gemma just couldn’t bring herself to tell Harper about feeding and that she’d killed someone. Nor could she tell her that the sirens needed to eat boys’ hearts to survive. And thankfully, Harper didn’t ask.
Gemma knew that Harper had to have suspicions. She’d seen the bodies, so Harper had to know the sirens killed boys and tore them open for a reason. But it must have been one of those things that Harper didn’t really want to know, the way sometimes parents suspect their kids are having sex but never ask. Sometimes not knowing is better.
The other thing Gemma couldn’t tell her was that she might die. Harper was hoping the sirens would wait as long as possible to find Gemma, but what she didn’t know was that they couldn’t wait too long. If they didn’t find her within a couple weeks, Gemma would be dead.
The reason Gemma didn’t tell Harper this wasn’t so much that she didn’t want to worry her, but that she didn’t want Harper to prevent it. Gemma didn’t want to die, but right now it was the only way she knew how to break the curse. It might be better if they didn’t find her: if she died, so would the sirens.
“I’m sorry,” Harper finally said. Her knees were pulled up to her chest, and she rested her chin on them.
“Why are you sorry?” Gemma asked, tilting her head to look at her sister.
“I’m sorry that you had to go through all this,” Harper said. “And you had to go through it alone. So much of this happened when you were at home, and you didn’t feel like you could tell me or Dad any of this.”
“Harper.” Gemma pushed herself up so she was sitting straighter. “You guys didn’t do anything wrong. I couldn’t tell you any of this because it’s insane.”
“No, I know, I’m not looking for reassurance,” Harper said. “I understand why you did what you did, and I don’t blame you. I just wish … I wish you didn’t have to go through all this, and I wish I knew how to help you.”
“You’re, like, two years older than me, and you’re my sister,” Gemma said. “You’re not supposed to have all the answers or be able to save me from anything.”
Harper pursed her lips and stared down at her bedspread without saying anything. Gemma hadn’t meant to make her sad, and now she almost wished she hadn’t told her anything. It felt good getting everything off her chest, and for the first time Gemma felt like she wasn’t completely alone in this. But she didn’t know if it was worth upsetting Harper like this.
“You remember when we were kids, after Mom had her accident?” Harper asked at length.
“Yeah, of course I do,” Gemma said.
“Mom was in a coma for, like, six months, and I was positive she was gonna die,” Harper said. “But you never gave up hope. Every day, we’d visit her, and you’d say, ‘Today will be the day she wakes up.’ And we’d get there, and she’d still be in a coma, and you’d just say, ‘Tomorrow, then. Tomorrow she’ll wake up.’”
“In the beginning, you and Dad tried to tell me that I was wrong,” Gemma said. “Dad would tell me, ‘The hospital will call if Mom wakes up, and they didn’t call. So she’s not awake today.’ And I would just insist that she would be.”
“Yeah, so eventually we just gave up and told you not to be upset if she wasn’t,” Harper said. “Not that you ever did get upset. I mean, sometimes you would, and you’d cry because you missed Mom. But you never threw a fit or anything. You just said, ‘Tomorrow.’”
“I guess I was a pretty optimistic kid.” Gemma smiled sadly at the memory of herself.
“You were,” Harper agreed. “But what you don’t know is that every day when we got to the hospital, even though I was certain Mom hadn’t woken up, a little part of me believed she had. Because you had so much conviction. I thought one day you’d have to be right.”