“If you really stand up to Penn and tell her no…” Thea trailed off. “Well, let’s just say you don’t get a chance to ever tell her no again.”
“Lovely,” Harper muttered. “And I’m sure that Gemma is already in the habit of telling her no.”
“Don’t worry about Gemma,” Thea said. “She’s your sister, but she’s my sister now, too.”
Harper looked at her dubiously. “You’re saying you’re protecting her?”
“Something like that.” Thea took another long drink of her malt. “Gemma reminds me a bit of Persephone.”
“The girl that you let get murdered before?” Harper asked.
“There’s one good thing about making mistakes.” Thea turned to her with a smile. “You learn not to make them again.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Harper asked. “What are you hoping to gain?”
“I like Gemma, and I’d like her to stay with us for a very long time,” Thea said. “Lexi is annoying, and Penn is … well, Penn is Penn. I want someone on my side for a change.”
“And you think that’s Gemma?” Harper asked.
“I think she could be, yes,” Thea said. “And I think the biggest thing holding her back from really committing, from really joining us, is you.”
Harper shook her head. “The biggest reason she doesn’t want to join you is because you’re evil and Penn is a monster. You are a monster.”
“If Gemma really commits to us and really tries, I can assure you that I’ll do everything in my power to keep her safe and alive and happy,” Thea said. “But if she keeps going against Penn and keeps trying to break away, I can’t protect her.”
Harper swallowed hard. “I can’t make this choice for her.”
“Maybe not, but you can let her go.” Thea pulled a few dollars out of her purse and left them on the counter. “I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you will,” Harper said as Thea slid off the stool.
Once Thea was gone, Harper rested her head in her hands. For the first time, she wondered if it might really be in Gemma’s best interest to remain a siren. It was a very high price to pay, but if she was alive and happy, that had to be a better choice than being dead.
Visiting their mom the day before had completely drained their dad. In truth, it had drained all of them, but it hit Brian the worst.
The rest of the day he was out in the garage supposedly working on a project. But when Harper sent Gemma out to get him for supper, he’d just been leaning against his workbench, drinking a beer and staring off into space.
To make matters worse, the air-conditioning broke on the hottest day of the year. They only had a window unit, in the living room, so the upstairs never cooled off anyway. The air conditioner did a fairly good job on the main level, since the house was so small.
Instead of going out and buying a new AC, Brian insisted that he was going to fix their old one. He took it out to the garage, where he’d spent all Sunday morning tinkering with it, but so far there had been no results.
While Harper was out in the garage trying to convince their dad to drink water instead of beer so he didn’t get dehydrated, Gemma put her plan into motion. She’d already texted Marcy and made sure it was a go. Now all she had to do was keep Harper preoccupied.
“Hello?” Daniel answered his cell phone on the third ring.
“Hey, Daniel, what are you doing?” Gemma asked in a hushed voice. She stood in her bedroom doorway, watching the stairs and listening closely for the front door.
“Why are you whispering?” Daniel instantly sounded tense. “Is something wrong?”
“No, I just don’t want Harper to hear me,” Gemma said. “Listen, can you do me a favor?”
He hesitated before saying, “Possibly.”
“I need you to keep Harper busy today.”
“What for? What are you doing?” Daniel asked.
“I’m going with Marcy out to Sundham to visit her friend at the bookstore,” Gemma explained. “We’re going to see if we can figure out where the scroll might be or see if we can find Demeter or the muses or something.”
“And why don’t you want Harper to know about this?” Daniel asked.
“I don’t want her to know about anything anymore,” Gemma said. “I’m trying not to tell her anything about the sirens at all.”
“So you want me to get Harper to come over so you can sneak off with Marcy?” Daniel asked. “Won’t Marcy tell her what’s up?”
“No, I already swore Marcy to secrecy. She likes sneaking around anyway.”
Daniel sighed. “All right. I’ll do it. But this isn’t dangerous or anything, right? You’re not going to get hurt or anything?”
“Nope. I’m just going to a bookstore,” Gemma replied. “How dangerous could that be?”
After she got off the phone with Daniel, it only took a few minutes for Harper to come in the house and say she was going out to Daniel’s. She invited Gemma to join, tempting her with promises of air-conditioning, but Gemma managed to decline without raising suspicion.
With Harper gone, Gemma just told her dad that she was going out to swim for a while, and he told her to stay cool and be safe. She texted Marcy, who came to pick her up in the Gremlin, and they were off to Sundham.
“This really isn’t that long of a trip,” Marcy said as they parked in front of the bookstore. “I don’t know what your sister is so worried about.”
“Well, you know Harper,” Gemma said as she opened the car door. “If she’s not worrying about something, then she’s not alive.”
Marcy led the way into the bookstore, entering underneath the perpetually creaking sign that said CHERRY LANE BOOKS. The last time Gemma had been here, they’d found Lydia back in a dark, hidden corner of the store, but today she was waiting right inside for them.
“Hey, guys,” Lydia chirped. She sat on the front counter next to an antique cash register. A glittery deck of cards was in her hand, with a few cards laid out beside her.
Sitting perched at the edge like that, wearing tangerine tights with a flowered jumper, Lydia reminded Gemma even more of a pixie. She was so petite and cheery, and pink clips held her short black hair out of her face.
“Hey, Lydia,” Marcy said as they walked over to the counter.