Penn stood between Harper and Gemma, and Gemma could see from her sister’s expression that she was considering whether or not to tangle with Penn. Harper turned to Gemma then, and Gemma gave her a pleading look. Harper’s gaze went from fierce to torn.
“Gemma,” Harper said again, more helplessly this time. “Please come inside.”
“I’m sorry.” Gemma shook her head and backed up with Lexi toward a car that idled in front of their house. “I’ll be home later.” She waited a beat before adding, “Don’t worry.”
“We’ll take good care of Gemma,” Penn assured Harper, still with her too-wide smile.
“Gemma!” Harper called out as Gemma slid into the backseat with Lexi, and Penn shut the door behind her.
Thea was sitting in the driver’s seat, like she was waiting in the getaway car for a bank robbery, and Penn joined her in front a few seconds later.
Gemma stared out the window as they pulled away, watching her sister standing on the front step. She looked up at Alex’s house next door, his bedroom window glowing yellow under the darkening sky.
She pulled her gaze away, and her eyes met Penn’s in the rearview mirror.
“What are you?” Gemma asked.
“Not yet.” Penn smiled. “Wait until we get to the bay. Then we’ll show you exactly what we are.”
* * *
Gemma had always wondered how Penn, Lexi, and Thea got to the cove, and she was eager to find out. Thea drove the car around the bay and headed to the coast on the other side. Once she parked in a gravel lot behind a patch of cypress trees, all the girls got out of the car.
Gemma noticed that they left their shoes in the car, and she would’ve done the same if she’d even remembered to put them on before she left the house.
Nobody said much of anything as they walked on a beaten path through the trees. The moon was nearly full, shining above them, but other than that there was no light.
Gemma’s heart continued racing, and she wasn’t completely sure she’d done the right thing by going with them. Part of her knew this was dangerous, especially after what had happened last time she was with them.
But she had a feeling that if they really wanted to kill her, she would already be dead. They were the only ones who knew what was happening to her, and she had to risk going with them to find out what it was.
When they reached a rather steep rocky incline, it took Gemma a minute to realize that they were at the back of the cove on the bay. She’d expected the girls to show her some hidden entrance that allowed them to get into the cove without getting wet, but instead they started climbing up the rocky face.
“You expect me to go up that?” Gemma asked, staring at the sheer climb. She couldn’t see anywhere to grip or put her hands, and she’d never been much for climbing anyway.
“You can do it,” Lexi assured her as Penn began the ascent to the top of the incline.
“I really don’t think I can.” Gemma shook her head.
“You’d be surprised what you can do now,” Lexi said with a smile. Then, without waiting to see if Gemma followed, she started climbing.
Penn, Lexi, and Thea were all moving nimbly up the rocks. Gemma debated for only a second, then went up after them. It came surprisingly easy to her. It wasn’t that she was a better climber exactly, but she was faster, stronger, more deft. She still slipped a few times, but she recovered easily.
When she reached the top, Penn was standing at the edge in front of the bay, so the mouth of the cove was below her. This high up, the wind was stronger, whipping through the girls’ hair. A fall from that height, even into water, would be dangerous, and that was assuming she missed the rocks.
“What are we doing up here?” Gemma asked and walked closer to her.
“I wanted to show you what we are,” Penn said.
“What are you?”
“The same thing as you.” Penn faced her, smiling.
Gemma swallowed hard. “And what’s that?”
“You’ll see,” Penn said, and with that, she reached out and pushed Gemma over the edge.
Gemma tumbled down, screaming and flailing her arms.
When she hit the surface of the water, it felt the same as hitting the ground. It smashed into her back, knocking the wind out of her. She went under the water, and her arm bashed hard against a rock. Blood flowed out from it, and salt stung her wound.
Gemma thrashed toward the surface, trying to swim through the pain overwhelming her body. But the fall had made her disoriented, and it was too dark for her to really tell up from down. She didn’t know where to swim, and her lungs burned for oxygen.
But even as she struggled, she felt a change come over her. It was the one she’d felt in the shower and in the pool, only this was more intense. It consumed her legs, fluttering down her skin.
The pain in her arm started to fade, replaced with a tingling sensation not that different from the one she felt going through her lower extremities.
Her body felt good, better than ever, actually, and she would’ve enjoyed it if she hadn’t been drowning. Whatever was happening to her had distracted her, and now she needed to gasp for breath. Her body did it involuntarily, and she expected her lungs to fill with water … but instead, when she took a breath, she breathed in air.
She could breathe underwater.
Gemma blinked. She could even see underwater. Her vision was even clearer than when she was on land.
Then she saw the burst of water as Lexi dove into the cove in front of her. Her body was surrounded by white bubbles for a moment. When they cleared, Lexi swam in front of her, her blond hair floating around her like a halo.
She smiled at her, and Gemma saw that Lexi no longer had legs. She had a long tail, like that of a fish. Her torso was still human, with her chest covered in a brightly colored bikini.
Gemma looked down at herself and realized that she had the same fish’s tail, covered in iridescent green scales. Her shorts were ripped and split down the middle from where her legs had converged, and the fabric sat around her waist like a belt.
It was then that Gemma screamed, and Lexi only laughed.
“I’m a mermaid?” Gemma asked once she’d surfaced.
She could probably talk underwater, but she thought the night air might clear her head in case it was all some sort of drug-induced hallucination. After all, this wouldn’t have been the first time Penn had slipped her something.
“Not exactly,” Penn said, pushing her dark hair back from her face. She and Thea had dived in the water right after Lexi, so all four of them were floating in the bay. “We’re sirens.”