Practice went on fairly well, with Gemma remembering all her lines properly. She didn’t have as much stage time as Thea or Aiden or even Kirby, and she found herself backstage watching them.
Toward the end of the night, she heard the back door slam. Daniel had been coming and going throughout most of the rehearsal, apparently working on sets outside so he wouldn’t interrupt them. But every time he came in or out, he’d been careful to close the door quietly.
At the very back of the stage were steps that led down to a narrow hallway. One end went right to the back door, and the other led down to the basement and the dressing rooms.
Gemma left her post at the curtains to peer down the steps to see if Daniel needed help, since it was unlike him to be loud or disruptive.
She’d expected to find him struggling with a large piece of the set or something, but he was only talking to Penn. He leaned away from her, with one of his hands reaching for the door.
Her fingers were knotted in the sleeve of his shirt, and her nails had shifted into black talons that tore through the fabric. Her black eyes were locked on his, and she refused to let go of him.
They were having some kind of hushed discussion, but Gemma couldn’t make out the words. Daniel’s jaw was set firmly, and his eyes were stormy as he glared at Penn.
Daniel leaned down low and whispered something to her. Gemma wished she could hear it, because whatever it was he said, it seemed to make both of them angrier.
“Don’t play games with me, Daniel,” Penn hissed, finally loud enough for Gemma to hear.
“I think you know me well enough to know that I don’t play games,” Daniel said. Then he glanced up and spotted Gemma eavesdropping. “Gemma.”
Penn turned to look up at her, and her expression instantly changed from frustration to her usual sultry smile. She released Daniel’s sleeve, and he moved away from her.
“Sorry, I heard a noise, and I wanted to see if everything was okay,” Gemma said quickly.
“Everything’s fine,” Daniel said. “Penn was just checking to see if rehearsal was over, but since it’s not, she’ll wait out in the car.” He gave Penn a hard look, then attempted a smile at Gemma. “You know how Penn hates to be disruptive.”
“That I do.” Penn smiled at Gemma, then winked at Daniel. “See you around.” As she left through the back door, she purposely slammed it behind her.
“Sorry.” Daniel offered a remorseful smile. “I didn’t mean to interrupt rehearsal.”
“No, it’s fine.” Gemma walked down the steps. She stopped when she was two steps up from the bottom, so she was at eye level with him. “It’s almost over anyway.”
“Good.” He moved toward the door. “I should get going now.”
“What was all that about? With Penn?” Gemma asked, stopping him before he left.
He rubbed the back of his neck and gave a hollow laugh. “You know Penn. She’s always…”
“No, Daniel, something’s going on,” Gemma insisted. He seemed reluctant to answer, so she pressed, “We agreed to tell each other everything. Remember?”
“No, actually, the deal was that you tell me everything,” he reminded her, and his hazel eyes were grave when they met hers.
“Yeah, so that you can help me keep Harper safe,” Gemma said. “And so you can have my back. It goes both ways, though. I can help you.”
Daniel smiled bitterly. “Not this time, kid.” He leaned back against the wall. “If you really want to help me, you just need to find that scroll and destroy it. That’s the only way we’re all getting out of this okay.”
“I’m doing everything I can,” Gemma said. “Lydia’s looking for someone that will know how to destroy it, so once the scroll is in my hands, this is over.”
“Good.” Daniel rubbed his eyes and fell silent. “Do you want me to walk you home after rehearsal?”
“No, I think I can handle it. You just go home and get some rest,” Gemma said. “You look like you need it.”
“Can do.” He gave her a half wave as he headed out the back door. “Stay safe, Gemma.”
She’d been meaning to tell Daniel about her plans to go up against the sirens after Harper left for college, but after seeing him tonight, she knew she couldn’t. He was already going through enough for them.
“So, how are we gonna celebrate?” Marcy asked, hopping on the desk next to the computer where Harper was working.
“Celebrate?” Harper asked, looking away from the monitor to Marcy.
“Yeah. This is your last day of work,” Marcy reminded her. “We have to do something to celebrate.”
“It’s a Tuesday night, Dad’s making supper, and Gemma’s skipping play rehearsal tonight so we can have a family dinner,” Harper said. “Does that count as celebrating?”
“Hardly.” Marcy scoffed. “We have to go out and get buck-wild. Rock our socks off. Paint the town red. That kinda thing.”
“I don’t really feel like painting the town any color.” Harper pushed the keyboard away and leaned back in her seat. “I have all my packing left to do.”
“When do you officially leave?” Marcy asked.
“Classes start Thursday, so I have to leave by tomorrow so I can get slightly acquainted with the campus before getting thrown into things.”
“I thought you already were acquainted,” Marcy said. “Or that’s what you hyped up when we made the road trip to Sundham.”
“Not acquainted enough.” Harper shook her head. “From what I understand, most of the other students were arriving over the weekend or yesterday. They have an orientation going on.”
Marcy scooted back farther on the desk and folded her legs underneath her. “Do you have your classes all picked out?”
“Yep. I registered online. Everything on the college end is all ready. It’s just everything here that feels so messed up.”
“How are things with Gemma?” Marcy asked cautiously.
Harper swiveled the chair back and forth and groaned.
“I don’t know.” Harper shook her head. “She got into some kind of fight with Alex on Sunday night. She won’t really talk about it, and what little I do know I got from Dad.”
“That at least sounds like something normal and adolescent,” Marcy said. “That’s gotta be a good thing.”