Her weird bird eyes stayed locked on Gemma, but Gemma’s expression didn’t change, as if she didn’t notice the startling shift in Penn’s eyes.
As suddenly as they changed, Penn’s eyes went back to their normal soulless color. Harper blinked and glanced around, but nobody else seemed to notice the change. They all just stared at Penn as if mesmerized, and Harper wondered if it’d just been her imagination.
“Nope.” Penn raised one of her shoulders, managing a seductive shrug. “I just wanted to stop and say hi. We don’t know many people here in town yet, and we’re always looking to make new friends.”
Thea didn’t look like she wanted to make new friends, though. She stood off to the side, a bit back from Penn and Lexi. She twirled her long red hair around her finger, and wouldn’t look at anyone at the table.
“You already have friends,” Harper said to Penn and nodded to Lexi and Thea.
“You can always have more, though, right?” Penn asked, and Lexi winked at Luke, making him giggle again. “And we could definitely use a friend like Gemma.”
Harper was about to ask Penn exactly what she meant by that, wondering what on earth they could possibly want with her little sister, but Marcy cut her off.
“Wait,” Marcy said through a mouthful of cheese curds. “Didn’t there used to be a fourth one?” She gulped down her food and stared up at them. “What did you guys do with her? Did you eat her? And then throw her up afterward, because obviously, you guys are bulimic.”
Penn shot her a glare so fierce it actually made Marcy cringe. She lowered her eyes and pulled her cheese curds closer to her, as if she thought that Penn might steal them from her.
“So have you guys been on the rides yet?” Harper asked, in an attempt to keep Penn from slaughtering Marcy. After that look, Harper thought it would be better if she kept the conversation banal instead of confronting Penn about her interest in Gemma.
Penn’s icy expression instantly melted, and her saccharine smile returned. Harper noticed that Penn’s teeth were unusually sharp. In fact, if Harper didn’t know better, she’d say that her incisors had actually grown and gotten more pointed than they had been a few seconds ago.
“No, we just got here,” Penn explained in her silky baby-talk. “We haven’t had a chance to check anything out yet.”
As she spoke, some of the unease Harper had been feeling when she noticed her smile vanished. Marcy even seemed to relax a bit and braved looking up at Penn again.
“I’d really love to win a teddy bear,” Lexi said, her voice going singsong as she spoke.
Both Alex and Luke looked at her, and Luke’s mouth fell open, like he was in awe.
Harper had her arms on the table in front of her, and she leaned forward. She couldn’t explain it, but she found herself hanging on her every word, as if Lexi were the most fascinating person she’d ever heard. Even the people around them seemed to move in closer, crowding around to get closer to Lexi.
“What do you think?” Lexi tilted her head and looked down at Luke. “Could you win me a teddy bear?”
“Yeah!” Luke shouted in excitement and got to his feet so quickly he nearly fell over the bench. “I mean, yes. I’d love to win you a bear.”
“Yay!” Lexi smiled and looped her arm through his.
People parted for them again as Lexi and Luke walked through the crowd toward the midway. Thea followed them, but Penn stayed behind, smiling down at the table. Alex stared after Lexi, watching until she disappeared in the crowd, and Gemma would’ve noticed, if she hadn’t been busy doing the same thing.
“Well, I’ll leave you to enjoy the rest of the afternoon,” Penn said. It sounded as if Penn were speaking to everyone at the table, but she was only looking at Gemma. “I’ll see you around.”
“Have a fun time,” Alex mumbled, his words coming out a little dazed. Penn laughed, then turned and walked away.
“That was weird,” Harper said once Penn had left.
She shook her head, clearing away this fog she didn’t understand. It almost felt as if she’d been dreaming, like Penn had never even really been there.
“I do think they killed her.” Marcy narrowed her eyes and nodded to herself. “There’s just something about those girls I don’t trust.”
As soon as the sun went down, Gemma hopped on her bike and rode out to the bay. She’d hadn’t been able to train at the pool with Coach Levi since Friday, and that made her especially anxious to get in the water. For the past couple of days she’d avoided going out late, as Harper wanted, so Gemma felt like she’d earned a night swim.
Even though she’d had a wonderful day at the picnic with Alex, she couldn’t wait to swim. Actually, the day was better than wonderful. It was … magical, in its own way.
They’d spent some of the afternoon hanging out with Harper and Marcy, and that had gone well—surprisingly, since Gemma wasn’t sure how Harper would react to her seeing Alex. Apparently Harper was mostly okay with it.
Eventually Alex and Gemma had gone off on their own again, and that was better. He did little things that made her heart flutter. He fumbled over his words when he tried to impress her, and he smiled at her in a way she’d never seen him smile before.
She thought she’d known him long enough to recognize all his smiles, but not this one. This one was small, almost like a smirk, but it went to his eyes.
When Alex dropped her off at home at eight, he walked her to the door. She knew Harper and her dad were inside, and he knew it, too, so she thought he wouldn’t kiss her. But he did. Not too long or too deeply, but there was something nice about that. The way he kissed her was almost respectful and careful.
Gemma had kissed only two boys before Alex, and one had been in the first grade during a game of Truth or Dare. Her only real kiss had been with her boyfriend of three weeks, and he’d kissed her with such ferocity she thought she’d have bruises on her face.
Alex’s kisses were the opposite of that. They were sweet and perfect and made her heart tingle whenever she thought of them.
She didn’t know how she hadn’t noticed before how amazing Alex was. If she’d only realized it sooner, there were months and months that they could’ve been together, time she could’ve spent stealing his wonderful kisses.
At the bay, she rode her bike down to the dock, the same way she always did, since it was the best place to park. When she passed Daniel’s boat, The Dirty Gull, she heard Led Zeppelin playing loudly.