That’s what terrified her. The hunger inside of her.
Gemma got out of the tub and flushed the scale down the toilet. Something was seriously wrong with her, and she had to stop it.
“Harper?” Gemma said and poked her head in her sister’s room.
“Yeah?” Harper was lounging on her bed with her e-reader.
“Can I talk to you?”
“Yeah, of course you can.” Harper set aside her e-reader and sat up straighter. “Wow. Did you do something in the bathroom?”
“Uh … why?” Gemma froze in the doorway. “What do you mean?”
“You look … good,” Harper said, for lack of a better word.
Gemma glanced down, looking herself over, but she knew what Harper meant. She’d already noticed it today. While she’d never been prone to acne, her skin was smoother, and it almost appeared to be glowing. She’d gone beyond her usual scope of pretty into something almost supernatural.
“I’ve just been using a different moisturizer.” Gemma shrugged, trying to play it off.
“Really?” Harper asked.
“No, actually”—Gemma sighed and rubbed her forehead—“that’s what I came in here to talk to you about.”
“You came to talk to me about moisturizer?” Harper raised an eyebrow.
“No, it’s not moisturizer.”
Gemma went over and sat down on the bed next to her sister. She didn’t know why she found it so hard to tell Harper about what was happening to her, except she knew she’d sound like a crazy person.
“What’s wrong?” Harper asked.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Gemma said finally. “But … there’s something wrong with me.”
“This is about the other night, right?” Harper asked. “When you went out with Penn and the girls?”
“Yeah, kinda.” Gemma furrowed her brow.
“It’s perfectly normal to act out,” Harper said, trying to keep her tone soothing. “I mean, it’s not okay. You shouldn’t be out drinking, but it’s not uncommon. And I know I can be hard on you sometimes, but—”
“No, Harper, I’m not acting out.” Gemma sighed in frustration. “There is actually something wrong with me. Like on a cellular level.”
Harper leaned back and looked over Gemma again. “Are you sick? You don’t look sick.”
“No, I feel fine. Better than fine, actually.”
“Then I don’t understand.”
“I know you don’t.” Gemma shook her head and stared down at her lap. “But something is very wrong.”
A loud knocking came from the front door, more of a demanding pound than an actual knock. Harper glanced at her bedroom door, hesitant to leave her conversation with Gemma. But Brian was working late, and the knocking only got more insistent.
“I’m sorry,” Harper told her sister as she got up. “I’ll be right back. I’ll send whoever it is away, and we can talk.”
“Okay.” Gemma nodded.
As soon as Harper left, running down the stairs and shouting at whoever was at the door to keep their pants on, Gemma flopped back on the bed. She stared up at the ceiling and tried to think of how to phrase it to her sister that she thought she was transforming into some kind of monster.
“What are you doing here?” Harper snapped downstairs, and Gemma listened more closely.
“We’re here to talk to your sister,” came the reply, and the sultry baby-talk was unmistakable. Penn was at her front door.
Gemma sat straight up, her heart pounding erratically in her chest. Part of her was afraid, the same way Penn always scared her. But the rest of her felt strangely excited. The sound of Penn’s voice drew her in, in a way that it hadn’t before, almost as if it were calling to her.
“You can’t see her,” Harper said.
“We just want to talk to her,” Penn said sweetly.
“Only for a minute,” Lexi chimed in, in her usual singsong way.
“No,” Harper said, but her voice had less conviction than it had a moment ago. “You’re not her friends, and you can’t talk to her anymore.”
Gemma got off the bed and raced down the stairs, but she stopped halfway. From her vantage point, she could see them at the front door. It was only Penn and Lexi standing outside, with Harper firmly blocking their path.
Looking at Penn and Lexi just then, Gemma realized she’d begun to look like them. Not exactly like them, since Penn and Lexi looked distinctly different. But there was a certain quality to them, a preternatural splendor. Their flawless tanned skin seemed to glow, as if they were illuminated by their own beauty.
“Hi, Gemma,” Penn said. Her dark eyes rested on Gemma in a come-hither way that she couldn’t deny.
“Gemma, go back upstairs.” Harper glanced back at her sister. “I’m sending them away.”
“No, don’t,” Gemma said quickly, but her words were so quiet, she was surprised anyone heard them.
“Gemma, you’re grounded,” Harper reminded her. “Even if you wanted to see them, you can’t. But you don’t want to see them.”
“Stop telling her what she wants,” Penn said with just a trace of venom in her voice. “You have no idea what she wants.”
“Right now I don’t care what she wants. Get out of my house.”
“Harper, stop,” Gemma said and descended the stairs. “I need to talk to them.”
“No!” Harper shouted, looking totally appalled by the idea. “You are not talking to them.”
“I need to,” Gemma insisted. She swallowed hard and looked again at Penn and Lexi.
They had done something to her. As certain as she was standing there, she knew that they were responsible for whatever was happening to her. That meant they knew how to fix it, or at least how to deal with it. Gemma had to talk with them to find out.
Harper tried to shut the door, but Penn’s arm shot out in a flash and pushed the door back open. Penn smiled at Harper, the menacing smile that revealed too many teeth.
“I’m sorry,” Gemma said earnestly. “But I have to go.” She slid through the gap that Penn had made for her and stepped outside.
“Gemma!” Harper yelled. “You can’t go! I forbid you!”
“Forbid me all you want, but I’m going,” Gemma said, and Lexi wrapped her arm around her in some kind of camaraderie.