“I didn’t understand before, but now that you put it that way, I get it,” he said dryly.
He’d stopped walking, so she did, too, and she turned to face him.
“Harper told you about the accident, right?” Gemma asked. “The one that happened when we were kids, and how my mom has a brain injury from it?”
“She has mentioned it, yes, but she doesn’t say much about it,” Daniel said.
“In her defense, there really isn’t a whole bunch to tell. Mom was driving Harper to a pizza party, and a drunk driver sideswiped her. It hit the driver’s side, so Mom got the worst of it, but Harper was hurt, too,” Gemma explained.
“Her injury basically amounted to a bad cut on her leg.” Gemma ran her hand six inches up and down her thigh to demonstrate. “She has a gnarly scar now, which is why she never wears short-shorts and hates to put on swimsuits.”
“Okay,” Daniel said, like he was trying to follow what Gemma was saying but did not understand the connection at all.
“Well, anyway, while that was happening, I was at home with my dad,” Gemma said. “We were sitting in the living room, and I was coloring, and I remember just having this overwhelming panic. I don’t even know how else to explain it. I was suddenly just terrified.”
“Like a panic attack?” Daniel asked.
“Something like that.” Gemma nodded. “But then I got this really sharp, intense cramp in my leg.” She motioned to the same spot on her leg that she had for Harper’s scar.
“So you’re saying that you felt it when Harper got hurt?” Daniel asked.
“I know it sounds crazy, but then again, after everything we’ve been through lately…” She trailed off and shrugged. “I don’t know why it happens, and I really can’t explain it. But since I’ve become a siren, I think it’s gotten more intense.”
“How so?” Daniel asked.
“Before, I could only feel it when something really bad happened, like a car crash. But I knew when she was in trouble at the Fourth of July celebration and Penn had found you guys.” She gestured to him. “And she found the house I was staying in.”
“Hmm,” he said after a minute, since there was nothing more he could really say.
They started walking again, but they didn’t talk about anything of substance the rest of the way. They mostly just talked about Tom and how he was a little nuts. A few houses before they’d reached Gemma’s, she stopped short.
“What?” Daniel asked, looking down at her.
“If I tell you something, will you promise not to tell Harper?” Gemma asked.
“What is it?” Daniel asked, his eyebrows crinkling in concern.
“No, you need to promise. Before I tell you anything.”
“Okay.” He glanced toward her house, as if expecting to see Harper lurking about, then turned back to Gemma and nodded. “I promise.”
“I’m not … telling Harper everything.” She chose her words carefully. “And I’d like it if you did the same.”
“What do you mean?” Daniel asked.
“Harper has her whole life ahead of her,” Gemma said. “She has all these great plans for herself, and she has you, and she has … everything. And there’s a very good chance that no matter what she does to help me, I won’t have a future. At least not one where I’m not a monster.”
“Harper told me that you were making progress,” he said. “I thought you’d found a lead on a way to break the curse.”
“I don’t know if it’s really a lead, but I do know that I don’t have much time left.” She took a deep breath. “The point is that I want Harper to have her future. She needs to go to college, and she won’t if she doesn’t think I’m safe. So I need to pretend that everything is okay, even if it’s not, and I want you to help me.”
“You want me to lie to my girlfriend and put you in danger so she’ll leave?” Daniel summed it up.
Gemma nodded. “It’s in her best interest. She’ll be safer if she’s gone, and she has a much better chance at a happier life.”
Daniel considered this and eyed Gemma. “I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll go along with you and try to shield Harper from the worst of it, on one condition—you tell me everything.”
“Why?” Gemma asked.
“Somebody needs to have your back. I get why you want to protect Harper, but you don’t need to protect me,” Daniel said. “We got a deal?”
“Good.” Daniel smiled. “Now you can start by telling me what you meant by not having much time left.”
“It’s…” She looked away from him and was surprised to find tears swimming in her eyes. “Penn thinks she found a replacement.”
“For you?” Daniel asked, and Gemma wiped at her eyes and nodded. “What does that mean?”
“It means she plans to kill me and use my blood to create the potion to make a new siren to take my place.” She smiled to keep the tears from falling. “And if I don’t break the curse soon, I’m dead.”
“Hey, don’t cry.”
He put a hand on her shoulder, almost awkwardly at first, but when she started crying, he wrapped an arm around her and hugged her roughly to him. She wept softly into his chest, giving in to the sadness for a few minutes before she let the embarrassment take over.
“I don’t want to die,” Gemma said, her words muffled into his shirt.
“Good,” Daniel said. “That’s a good start. Now, what do you need to do to live?”
“Get along with Penn, and find the scroll.” She’d stopped crying, so she straightened up and wiped at her eyes. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to blubber like that.”
“No need to apologize. No blubbering occurred,” he assured her with a smile. “I can help you keep Penn happy, at least for a little while. The scroll is the thing Lydia told you guys about yesterday?” Gemma nodded. “Harper told me you didn’t know where it was.”
“I don’t,” she admitted. “I want to check their house, and I need to talk to Thea and see what she knows.”
“Okay. So do that,” Daniel said. “Like, immediately.”
“They’re at home right now,” Gemma said. “I think it’d be better if I checked their house when they’re not there, and I want to do that before I talk to Thea. She said she’d do everything to help me just short of getting herself killed, and if I find the scroll and break the curse, it might kill her. So she would hide it from me.”