“But it’s a curse,” Gemma said. “Demeter turned you into sirens to punish you.”
“Did it really feel like a punishment?” Penn asked slyly. “When you were out in the water, wasn’t that the best you ever felt?”
“Demeter was an idiot, and she failed.” Abruptly, Penn stood up. “She thought she was giving a penalty, but she set us free. Now her daughter is long since dead, Demeter’s all but forgotten, and here we are—as beautiful and powerful as ever, thriving under her ‘curse.’
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ve made my point,” Penn said. “Join us or don’t. Live or die. It’s up to you, and frankly, I don’t care which.”
“Wait.” Gemma stood up, her mind racing, but Penn ignored her. “Penn, wait. I still have so many questions.”
Penn pulled her dress up over head and dove into the water. Thea followed a few steps behind and jumped into the waves after her.
Lexi stayed behind a moment. She went over to Gemma and placed a hand on her arm.
“Go see your friends and family,” Lexi told her. “Put your life in order. Say good-bye to the things you need to say good-bye to. Then come join us. You’ll never regret it.”
After Lexi went into the cove, swimming off into the night with the other two sirens, Gemma considered chasing after them. As fast as she was now, she could probably catch up to them. But to what end? Penn hadn’t answered all her questions yet, but Gemma had enough to think about.
She knew Penn and Thea had told the truth, but she didn’t necessarily believe it was the whole truth. They’d definitely left something out, and they hadn’t told her what became of Aglaope, just that Gemma was needed to replace her.
The curse of the siren that Demeter had supposedly bestowed upon them—it didn’t make any sense. Nothing she’d done to them sounded that bad. They were granted immortality, eternal beauty, and they could swim and breathe as fish whenever they wanted.
That sounded like a dream come true for Gemma.
She went to the mouth of the cove and sat down at the water’s edge, her legs in the water up to her knees. Her skin fluttered, tingling as scales sprang intermittently from her flesh. Her toes spread out, becoming sheer fins that glided through the water.
Her body wasn’t submerged enough in the bay, so she didn’t completely transform. Her legs remained legs, only with a few scales, but her feet were more flippers than feet. Gemma swung her legs back and forth, relishing the way the cold water felt running over her scales and flippers.
She closed her eyes, breathing in deeply, and her heart swelled with the pure joy of the moment.
But as amazing as this felt, as unbelievable and impossibly perfect as it all seemed, would it still be worth it? Giving up everything she knew and loved? Leaving behind her sister, her father, Alex?
With her eyes still closed, Gemma slid into the water, still wearing the dress the sirens had given her. She didn’t try swimming at all—she just allowed herself to sink, floating down toward the bottom of the bay.
Gemma felt her legs changing, her appendages fusing to form a single tail. It wasn’t until she could breathe in the water that she opened her eyes, staring out at the darkness around her.
Just before she hit the bottom, she flipped her tail and began swimming toward the shore. Since she didn’t seem to have much of a choice right now, she decided to take Lexi’s advice. She’d go home and figure things out from there.
She didn’t want people to see her, so she swam to the far end of the bay that was covered in rocks. Because of the tail, she had to pull herself up onto the rocks on her belly, scraping her skin and arms. Once she was far enough out of the sea, she waited and watched with amazement as her scales once again turned back to skin.
Thankfully, she’d kept on the dress, so she didn’t have to go home in the nude. She walked the several blocks to her house. Calling Harper or Alex for a ride would’ve been an option, but Gemma wanted time to clear her head. It was probably almost midnight by now, so she had the streets to herself.
Instead of going straight home, she cut through the alley into Alex’s backyard. She snuck as close to his house as she could, afraid that Harper would catch sight of her if she looked out the window. She nearly pressed herself against his house as she knocked on the back door, hoping Alex was still awake.
Her heart pounded in her chest as she waited. She wanted to see him, and yet a part of her was afraid to.
Thea’s words hung in her head, the true curse of the siren. No man would ever really be able to love her. Gemma remembered the forceful way Alex had kissed her the other day with the dazed look in his eyes. That wasn’t the Alex she was falling for. That was a boy under the spell of a siren, a boy who was incapable of really loving her.
Gemma continued to wait outside Alex’s house. She’d nearly decided to go home when the door opened.
“Gemma!” Alex sounded both surprised and relieved.
“Shh!” She held her finger up to her mouth, quieting him before Harper or her father heard.
“What are you doing?” Alex asked. “Are you all right? You’re soaking wet.”
Gemma glanced down at her dress. It had started to dry on her walk home, but she’d walked fast, so she hadn’t given it much time.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“You look cold. Do you need a coat or something?” Alex started to move back inside the house to get something to warm her, but she grabbed his arm to stop him.
“No, Alex, listen. I just need to ask you something.” Gemma glanced around, as if she expected Harper to be lurking around a corner. “Can we talk for a minute?”
“Yeah, sure, of course.” He stepped closer to her and put his hands on her arms, feeling strong and warm against her bare skin. “What’s going on? You look frantic.”
“I’ve just had the most amazing, terrible night of my life,” Gemma admitted, and she was surprised when she felt tears stinging her eyes.
“Why? What happened?” Alex’s brown eyes filled with concern.
His worried expression made him look older, more like the man he would someday become, and Gemma’s heart ached when she realized that she would probably never see that. Already he was almost painfully handsome, made even more attractive by how oblivious he was to it.
He was much taller than she was, almost towering above her, and his muscled frame only made her feel safer. It was his eyes—a deep mahogany that conveyed so much warmth and kindness—that let her know he’d never do anything to hurt her.