Harper accidentally dropped a plate, and it clattered loudly in the sink.
“And the timing couldn’t be worse,” Brian went on. “There’s that killer on the loose going after teenagers.” He took a labored breath. “Something’s happened to her, Harper.”
“Those were all boys,” Harper said, trying to cut off his train of thought. “And I saw Gemma leave. She told me she was running away. She’s fine.”
“She’s not fine!” Brian shouted.
Harper leaned against the sink and closed her eyes. For a moment all she could do was breathe in deep to keep from freaking out. Her hands were trembling, and she wanted to cry. She had to convince her father that everything was all right, when in reality she had no idea if Gemma was okay or if they’d ever see her again.
“I went to the police today,” Brian said, and his tone had leveled out again.
“Did you?” Harper asked cautiously. “What did they say?”
“They’re looking for her,” Brian said. “They don’t prioritize runaway teens, and with everything that’s been going on lately, they’re going to do what they can.”
“That’s good.” Harper had finished with the dishes, but she left the tap on, preferring the sound so it would drown out the silence and tension in the room.
“Harper, turn off the water,” Brian said. “I need to tell you something.”
She shut off the faucet but grabbed a rag to wipe down the counter, continuing her attempts to busy herself.
“Harper. Sit down. I need to talk to you.”
“Just a sec, Dad,” Harper said, scrubbing at a nonexistent spot on the counter.
“Harper,” Brian said, with a firmness to his words that made Harper flinch.
She draped the rag over the sink, then went over to the table and sat down across from him. The whole time she kept her eyes lowered, afraid of how she might react if she looked at him directly.
Seeing her father so haggard like that, she was terrified she would spill everything to him. But she couldn’t tell him about the sirens or what had really become of Gemma, and not just because he’d think she was insane.
In fact, that would be better than if he believed her. If he knew that Gemma was a siren, that she’d run off with actual monsters, he would lose his mind trying to protect her, and Harper couldn’t bear the thought of that.
“I have bad news,” Brian said gravely. He reached across the table, wanting to take Harper’s hand, but she wouldn’t give it to him. “When I was at the police station, I found out something.”
She gulped, swallowing down the painful acid in her stomach that wanted to rise. She wasn’t sure what else Brian could’ve possibly found out. And she wasn’t sure that she could handle any more bad news.
“I don’t know how to tell you this, but…” He paused, trying to form the words. “Bernie McAllister has been murdered.”
And then in one horrible rush it all came back to her, pulling all the air from her lungs and twisting her stomach in knots.
Harper had managed to forget about it until now. But that wasn’t quite right, either. She hadn’t forgotten it. It would be impossible to forget about the death of someone who’d been so important to her.
Her mind had blocked it out, giving her a few more peaceful hours when she didn’t have to think about it. But now it was back, the image of his body eviscerated in the trees outside of his cabin.
Bernie was one of the kindest people she’d ever known, a gentle old man with a soft British accent. He’d helped care for both Harper and Gemma after their mom had gotten hurt in the car accident.
Then the sirens had killed him, gutting him like a fish and leaving him to rot as they danced and sang and tore up his home looking for valuables. The worst part of it was that he gladly would’ve given them anything they wanted, and not because they were sirens who put a spell on him, but because Bernie wanted to help everyone.
“I’m so sorry, honey,” Brian said, his own voice thick with tears. “I know how fond of him you were.”
Harper put her hand to her mouth as silent tears slid down her cheeks. With the image of his body burning in her mind, she realized she had to form a response. Her father didn’t know that she’d already found out Bernie was dead, and he couldn’t know.
“How…” Harper croaked, barely able to force the word out around the lump in her throat.
“They’re not sure yet,” Brian said, but he lowered his eyes when he said it.
Harper had a feeling that the police had told him more than he was sharing with her, and for a split second she hated them for that. Brian didn’t need to know the details of it. Everyone should be spared that gruesome image if they could be.
“They found his house ransacked,” Brian went on. “They think it was some kind of robbery gone wrong.”
Harper wondered if there was any truth to that. Had the sirens gone to steal from him, and he’d been a casualty? Or had his murder been their primary goal, and the robbery an afterthought?
“He had a doctor’s appointment in town yesterday, and when he didn’t show up, the doctor sent the police out on a well-being check,” Brian said. “With a man of Bernie’s age living alone, the doctor was being cautious. But nobody ever expected to find him murdered.”
“Do they have any suspects yet?” Harper heard herself asking. Her hands were trembling, so she put them on her knees, squeezing them to keep the quaking at bay.
“Not yet,” Brian admitted. “But they’re looking.” He paused. “They think it might have been the same person who’s been killing those boys.”
Harper nodded numbly, knowing for a fact that the same monsters who had killed Luke Benfield and the two other teenage boys had also killed Bernie.
“At least you just spent time with Bernie,” her father said, trying to change the subject and put a brighter spin on everything somehow.
It had only been on Saturday, a few days before, that Harper and Brian had spent the afternoon on Bernie’s Island, catching up with him and checking out his garden. She knew she should’ve found some comfort in that, a warm last memory with an old friend, but there was no comfort for her.
“I know this is a lot to take,” Brian said. “Are you holding up okay?”
“Yeah,” Harper said unconvincingly.
Fortunately, before her dad could press her more about how she was doing, her phone started ringing in her pocket. As she fumbled to get it out, her heart raced in hopes that it was Gemma, but then she saw the number. It was only Daniel again.