It was hot, so the beach was crowded, both with tourists and the locals. Still, the sirens weren’t that hard to spot. Gemma was on the grassy hill behind the beach, looking down toward the bay, and she could easily see the three girls in the crowd.
All of them wore bikinis, showing off their ample assets. Penn lay on a beach towel on her belly. Lexi was sitting propped on her elbows, flirting with an older guy standing next to her. In her usual fashion, Thea seemed bored by it all and read a dog-eared copy of Salem’s Lot while lounging in a beach chair.
Gemma had to push through the people on the beach to get to them, although she realized that she didn’t have to push that hard. People actually started parting for her, the way they always seemed to for Penn and her friends.
People were already starting to treat her like one of the sirens, like she belonged with them.
“You’re blocking the light,” Penn said without looking up. Gemma stood in front of her, casting a shadow across her back.
“I need to talk to you.” Gemma crossed her arms and stared down at them.
“Hey, Gemma.” Lexi turned to look back at her and used her hand as a visor from the sun. “You look great today.”
“Thanks, Lexi,” Gemma said offhandedly but kept her focus on Penn. “Did you hear me?”
“Yeah, you need to talk.” Penn still hadn’t moved on the towel. “So go ahead. Talk.”
Gemma glanced around. People were involved in their activities, like tanning or reading or building sand castles, so it wasn’t like they were just sitting and staring at the sirens. Yet the people were too close, too crowded together, to ignore the sirens for any amount of time, and they kept looking over.
“Not here,” Gemma said, lowering her voice.
“Then I guess we’ll talk later,” Penn told her.
“No. I need to talk now.”
“Well, I’m busy now.” Penn finally lifted her head to glare at her. “So it will have to wait, won’t it?”
“No.” Gemma shook her head. “I’m not going anywhere unless you go with me.”
Thea sighed loudly. “Penn, just go talk to her. We won’t get any rest until you do.”
“If I’m going, we’re all going.” Penn cast a look to Thea, who scoffed and rolled her eyes.
“Fine. I guess we’re done here, then.” Thea closed her book and shoved it roughly into her beach bag. “Come on, Lexi, let’s pack up.”
“What?” Lexi looked confused. “Aren’t we coming back?” When Thea started to get up, she waved her hand. “No, we’ll come back. Somebody can just watch our stuff.” She turned to the older man, who was now sitting next to her. “Will you be a sweetheart and watch our stuff until we return? We shouldn’t be gone that long.”
“Yeah, sure, no problem.” He smiled eagerly at Lexi and nodded.
“Thank you.” Lexi returned his smile, then stood up and brushed sand off her legs. “Okay. I’m ready.”
Penn and Thea got up more slowly than Lexi, and Penn led the way off the beach. Half a dozen guys said hello to them as they walked away, but only Lexi responded. Gemma, who garnered some male attention of her own, wasn’t used to quite this much ogling, and she found that she didn’t enjoy it.
They went to a rocky area that jutted out into the bay, not quite to the cypress trees, but far enough to be out of sight of the crowd on the beach.
As soon as they got there, Thea slipped off her bikini bottom and waded out into the water. From where she stood, Gemma couldn’t see her legs turn into a tail, but she knew it had happened just the same.
“Shall we go for a swim?” Lexi suggested, slipping down her own bikini bottom.
“No, I don’t want to swim,” Gemma lied. “I just want to talk.”
Lexi’s bikini bottom was just below her hips, and she paused, looking from Gemma to Penn. Penn only stared at Gemma for a minute, debating what she planned to do.
“You go ahead and swim,” Penn told Lexi without looking at her. “I’ll stay here and talk with Gemma.”
“Okay.” Lexi sounded hesitant, but she took off her bikini bottom and went into the water. Within moments she’d disappeared out in the bay, swimming with Thea.
Gemma watched from the corner of her eye but tried not stare. It was hard to be this close to the ocean and not swim. The waves lapping against the rocks were like music, singing to her.
They were summoning her, seeming to beckon her at a cellular level. Her very being yearned to be in the water, but she needed to talk to Penn. She didn’t think she could do that if she were frolicking about in the bay.
“So, what did you want to talk about?” Penn asked, leaning back against a large boulder behind her.
“For starters, how do you deal with that?” Gemma gestured to the ocean beside them and tugged at her earlobe. “It’s driving me nuts.”
“You mean the watersong?” Penn smirked at Gemma’s obvious distress.
“That music you’re hearing right now, the way the ocean sings to you? That’s the watersong. It’s calling us back home, and it’s why we can never be that far from the ocean.”
“So it doesn’t ever stop?” Gemma twisted a strand of hair around her finger and glared out at the waves.
“No, it doesn’t,” Penn admitted somewhat sadly. “But it does get easier to ignore when you’re not hungry.”
“I’m not hungry,” Gemma insisted. “I ate breakfast this morning.”
Penn shrugged a shoulder and looked out at the water. “There are different kinds of hunger.”
“Listen, I wanted to talk to you about something you said.”
“I assumed as much.” Penn watched Thea and Lexi splashing around a ways from shore, then turned back to Gemma. “Are you ready to join us?”
“That’s the thing.” Gemma shook her head. “I don’t want to join you.”
“So, you want to die, then?” Penn raised an eyebrow coolly.
“No, of course not. But there has to be a way out. There must be something else I can do.”
“Nope. There’s not,” Penn said simply. “Once you take the drink and transform, you’re locked in. You’re a siren, and the only way out is death.”
“But that’s not fair.” Gemma clenched her fists because she could do nothing else to ease her frustration. “How could you do this to me? How could you turn me into this without even asking what I wanted? You can’t just force me to be this … this thing.”