“Oh.” He ran a hand through his dark hair and braved looking up at her again. “Did she die or something?”
“Or something,” she said quietly. “She was in an accident nine years ago. She’s still alive, but it’s not the same.”
“I’m sorry,” Kirby said, and it sounded like he really meant it. He reached out to touch Gemma’s shoulder, and she didn’t brush away the gesture.
“I went to see her the other day, and I tried to tell her that I was in a play,” Gemma said. “The last time I acted was when my kindergarten class did Three Billy Goats Gruff. I remember my mom being so excited back then.”
She was surprised to feel tears swimming in her eyes, and sniffled to keep them back. Kirby had let his hand fall, but he stayed close to her, in case she might need him for comfort. But the truth was, she barely even noticed that he was still there.
“I thought she might get excited again,” Gemma went on. “Mom always had such a light in her eyes when she talked about the plays she was in. But when I told her, she didn’t even know what I meant.
“She used to walk around the house reciting Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller.” Gemma let out a deep breath and shook her head. “But now she didn’t know what I was talking about, and she didn’t care.”
Then, in a small whisper, she added, “She barely even remembers me.”
“Hey, come on.” Kirby tried to put his arm around her, but she stepped away from him.
“Sorry.” Gemma wiped at her eyes and forced a smile. “You don’t need to see me like this.”
“I don’t mind.” Kirby smiled at her. “Why don’t we get out of this dank basement? I’ll give you a ride home.”
“Kirby, no, that’s okay.” Gemma shook her head. “You don’t need to do that.”
Yesterday, while she’d been with her sister and Marcy trying to figure out how to break the sirens’ curse at the bookstore, Kirby had been calling and texting her. She’d turned her phone off so she could focus, but when she finally turned it on, she saw that she had six new texts and two missed calls.
That was when Gemma decided that this had gone far enough. It was one thing to have fun with Kirby to pass the time, it was another thing entirely to actually become involved with him. Penn and Lexi would eventually take notice of him, which could become very dangerous for him.
Besides that, she was still in love with Alex, and she’d never love Kirby. Not that Kirby would ever love her, either. Whatever he felt for her was probably nothing more than siren-induced infatuation, and she didn’t want him getting hurt over imitation emotions like that.
So she decided that she needed to end things with him. Unfortunately, she’d been so busy trying to figure out where Penn might store a secret scroll that she hadn’t thought of exactly how she would break things off with Kirby.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if she’d been able to make any progress on finding the scroll. Her best ideas so far were to talk to Thea about it or search the sirens’ house. Penn and Lexi had been home all day, and at rehearsal she’d been unable to get Thea alone, since she was always surrounded by the actors in the play.
And that left Gemma standing outside the dressing rooms, trying to find a way to let Kirby down gently.
“It’s really no problem giving you a ride,” Kirby said. “You’re on my way home.”
“I know, but I thought I’d walk tonight,” Gemma said. “It’s such a nice night.”
“I could walk you home,” Kirby offered.
“Kirby, the thing is, you’re a nice guy, but…” She let out a long breath when she saw his expression fall. “I just got out of a serious relationship, and I need to focus on the play, and there’s so much going on in my life. I don’t think it’s fair to you if we keep hanging out.”
“It’s fair,” he said quickly. “It’s totally fair. I’m fine with it. If you’re busy, you know, I can give you space.”
“Okay, well, I need a lot of space,” Gemma said. “Like so much space that we’re not talking or hanging out outside of the play anymore. At all. That kinda space.”
Understanding washed over his face, and he swallowed hard. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No.” She smiled sadly and shook her head. “You were perfectly wonderful.”
“Then … can I at least walk you home tonight?” Kirby asked. “Like, to say good-bye?”
“Gemma?” Daniel asked. He’d appeared at the bottom of the stairs at the end of the hall. “Is everything okay down here?”
“Yeah, everything’s fine,” Gemma assured him.
“Good,” he said, but didn’t move away. “Everyone else has gone home for the night. So … Kirby, why don’t you head on home?”
“I was going to walk Gemma home,” Kirby said.
“Why don’t you take the night off, Kirby? I’ll make sure she gets home safe,” Daniel said. “I’ve gotta swing by her house anyway to see her sister.”
Kirby looked over at Gemma, probably hoping that she would fight for him to take her, but she just shrugged and shook her head. Truthfully, she was relieved to get out of it. Kirby was harmless, but that didn’t mean she wanted to spend the next half hour turning him down.
Kirby lowered his eyes and nodded. “All right. See you later, Gemma.” He turned and walked down the hall.
Gemma waited until after he was gone before she smiled gratefully at Daniel and walked over to where he waited for her.
“Thanks,” she said. “You saved me from a really, really awkward walk home.”
“You’re only saying that because you don’t know what I have planned for conversation. I’m going to talk about all sorts of uncomfortable things.” Daniel smirked.
“So you’re really gonna walk me home?” Gemma asked as they walked up the stairs together.
“Damn straight I am,” Daniel said. “Do you have any idea what your sister would do to me if I left you to walk home unguarded in the middle of the night?”
“It’s, like, nine o’clock,” Gemma pointed out.
“You think that matters to Harper?” Daniel asked. “It’s dark. That constitutes ‘middle of the night’ to her.”
When they reached the top of the stairs, instead of going back up to the stage and through the auditorium they turned and went out the back door. Daniel held it open for her as Gemma stepped outside into the warm night air.