Thea, Kirby, and several other actors were onstage with Gemma, trying to perform the scene. They were all staring at her, waiting for her to say or do something, but for the life of her, Gemma couldn’t remember what she was supposed to do.
Just offstage, standing beside the curtain, was Aiden. His lip was swollen, one eye was blackened, and he had scratches and bruises on his cheek. Everyone had made a big deal about his injuries when he came in, but he’d insisted that he’d be fine in time for the performance in just under two weeks.
He hadn’t said anything to Gemma, but she’d caught him glaring at her a few times. Aiden was probably doing it more often than she noticed, though, since she was barely paying attention to anything that happened today.
“Glad to see you decided to join us onstage,” Tom said with an annoyed smile. “Now maybe you’d like to say a line or two while you’re here.”
“Oh, I missed my cue. I’m sorry.” She tried to look apologetic, but he didn’t seem to care if she was sorry or not.
“I just said, And she knew why,” Thea supplied for her.
“Okay. Um.” Gemma put her hand to her forehead and squeezed her eyes shut, trying to remember. “Why, gentlemen, you do me double wrong—”
“Wrong act, my dear Bianca,” Tom said, barely holding back his contempt. “Of course! You have all of four lines in this scene! Why should you be troubled to learn them all?”
“I’m sorry. I’m just…” She shook her head. “I’m not myself today.”
Aiden snorted offstage, and she glanced over to see him smirking as she floundered. That, of course, didn’t help anything, and for an awful second she thought she might cry.
But then she flashed onto the image of her mother, the picture hanging outside the dressing room. Nathalie had mostly given up acting after she’d had her children, but she’d done a few more plays when Gemma was small.
While Nathalie had been running through her lines one night, Gemma had asked her what her favorite part about acting in the theater was, and she distinctly remembered her answer.
“It’s all live. It’s life-or-death onstage, and no matter what comes, the show must go on. You have to put on a brave face and play your part, whether you screw up or not. And there’s something exhilarating about that,” Nathalie had explained to her with a smile.
“Can someone help her?” Tom asked. “Or shall we stand here all day watching her flail?”
“Um, I have it here,” Kirby said. He had his script rolled up in his hand, and he flipped through it, hurriedly scanning for Bianca’s line. “It starts with, Sister, content you—”
“Sister, content you in my discontent,” Gemma began reciting before Kirby had even finished. It all came back to her, and as she spoke clearly and loudly, she kept her eyes fixed on Aiden. “Sir, to your pleasure humbly I subscribe: My books and instruments shall be my company, on them to look and practice by myself.”
Last night had been awful, and things were horribly messed up, but that only meant that she had to work harder to put things right again. But she wasn’t ready to give up. Not yet. She’d gotten knocked down, but the fight wasn’t out of her.
“Excellent!” Tom shouted and walked back to his seat. “Now we can get on with the scene, and if we’re lucky, we might make it through Act One by opening night.”
“Hark, Tranio, thou may’st hear Minerva speak,” Kirby said, continuing on with the play.
Gemma looked away from Aiden and focused on the action around her, trying to be present in the scene. Her exit came only a few seconds later, when the actor playing her father dismissed her offstage.
As she walked past Aiden, Gemma let her shoulder slam into him. What he’d done last night had been unforgivable. She might have been more alluring as a siren, but that didn’t give guys free rein to do with her as they wished.
Thea had told her that sirens attracted rapists and pedophiles, and so far that had been a frighteningly apt description. But both Kirby and Alex always behaved themselves around Gemma, so it wasn’t like she turned men into deviants who couldn’t control themselves.
Shortly after her exit, Thea had hers, too, and she went backstage to where Gemma stood. Gemma had pulled out her script, meaning to go through it again before she went out for her next scene.
“Is everything all right?” Thea asked, her voice low so as not to disturb the players on the stage. “You seemed pretty out of it back there.”
“Yeah, everything’s fine,” Gemma insisted with a smile. “I just couldn’t remember my lines.”
“Did Harper tell you that I talked to her the other day?” Thea asked.
“What?” Gemma’s head jerked up. “Why? When? Where?”
“Calm down. It’s not like I killed her or anything.” Thea smirked. “We just had a nice little heart-to-heart where I told her it might be in your best interest to remain a siren.”
“How do you figure that?” Gemma asked.
“So far, it’s the only way I know of keeping you alive,” Thea said.
“Maybe.” She forced a smile at Thea. “I’m keeping a low profile and trying to get along with Penn and Lexi, just like you said.”
Thea seemed surprised by that, but she smiled. “Good. I’m glad you’re taking my suggestion seriously.” She paused before saying, “But you need to give up your search for the scroll.”
Gemma lowered her eyes. “You know that I won’t.”
“Well, you won’t be able to find it anyway,” Thea told her. “Penn has it under lock and key now.”
“So she did move it, then?” Gemma asked.
Thea nodded. “She had it in a box buried at the bottom of the river. Normally we hide it in the ocean, but Penn thought a river named after our father was a sign.”
“Doesn’t that seem dangerous?” Gemma looked up at her. “Someone could find it.”
“Nobody has gone looking for it so far,” Thea said. “Until you, of course.”
Thea was called back out onstage a few seconds later, and Gemma was happy for it. She didn’t know how well she’d be able to lie to Thea, but Gemma had no intention of making nice and trying to play siren.
But she couldn’t exactly tell Thea what she was up to. Thea had already told her she wouldn’t let her have the scroll, so from here on out Gemma was on her own. She couldn’t let Thea know her plans.