A commotion in the nearby cypress trees distracted both of them. Urgent voices echoed through the bay, along with the static sound of a radio. It was far enough away that Gemma couldn’t see a lot, but she could see movement and blue uniforms, like those of the police.
“What’s going on?” Thea called, drawn closer to the shore by the noise in the woods.
“Are those the police?” Lexi asked, floating next to Thea.
“We should go,” Penn snapped and walked toward the ocean. “You should come with us, Gemma.”
“Um…” Gemma pulled her eyes away from what was happening in the woods and looked back to where Penn had stopped at the edge of the water. “No. At least, not yet.”
Penn pursed her lips. “Suit yourself. But we’ll only be here a few more days. Then we’re gone.”
“Come on, Penn,” Thea called to her, swimming away from the shore. “We need to get out of here.”
“’Bye, Gemma!” Lexi waved to her.
“’Bye.” Gemma waved back, but Lexi had already ducked under the water.
Gemma watched as Penn waded out into the water. She stopped when it was just about to her waist, and Gemma could see her tan skin changing to iridescent scales glittering up over her hips.
“For what it’s worth, I was telling the truth,” Penn said, then she dove in the water and swam off.
Gemma stayed on the shore for a little longer, watching the waves, but the sirens didn’t surface again. The watersong nearly drowned out the sound of the men in the woods, but she didn’t really want to hear them anyway.
Eventually she pulled herself away from the bay and walked back to her house. She still wasn’t sure exactly what she should do. Die or join them. Neither option sounded acceptable.
Just as she made it to her house, a police car pulled up in front. Her heart pounded, and she stared wide-eyed as a police officer got out and opened the back door of the car. Harper and Alex got out of the backseat, and that completely dumbfounded her.
Harper had her arm around Alex, and his face was stark white.
“What happened?” Gemma asked, rushing over to them.
“We found Luke,” Harper said quietly.
“He’s dead.” Alex stepped away from Harper and hugged Gemma. She wrapped her arms around him, holding him tightly to her, and she could feel his tears on her shoulder.
Harper leaned on the kitchen sink and stared out the window at Alex’s house next door. He’d been shaken up since they’d found the dead bodies the day before, and Gemma had spent nearly all her time over at his house.
Both Brian and Harper thought it was better for Gemma to be with him than upstairs in her room grounded. Alex needed her.
“How are you holding up?” Brian asked. He sat at the kitchen table behind Harper, drinking a cup of coffee.
“Fine,” Harper lied.
Nightmares had woken her up three times before she gave up on sleep entirely. To busy herself, she’d done all the laundry and rearranged the pantry by the time Brian got up at eight A.M.
“Are you sure?” Brian asked.
“Yeah.” She turned back to her dad and forced a smile to reassure him. “I didn’t know Luke all that well.”
“It doesn’t matter. Seeing something like that can get to you.”
“I’ll be fine.” She pulled out a chair across from him and sat down.
Brian had the paper spread out in front of him, the same way he did every Saturday morning. The bodies found in the woods had made the front page, so he had deliberately separated that page from the paper and thrown it away before Harper could see it.
Reaching across the table, Harper grabbed the crossword puzzle. Brian always started filling out the puzzles but gave up after getting only one or two words. He rolled the pen across the table, and she thanked him for it.
“So we’re just going to pretend that nothing happened?” Brian asked, and sipped his coffee.
“I’m not pretending anything.” Harper pulled her knee to her chest so she could lean on it as she filled out the crossword. “Something horrible happened. I just don’t have a lot to say about it.”
“Did I ever tell you about how Terry Connelly died?” Brian asked.
“I don’t know.” She paused, thinking. “I remember when that happened, but I was only five or six at the time. It was some kind of accident at the dock, right?”
“Yeah.” He nodded. “A pallet weighing several hundred pounds fell off a forklift and landed on him. It knocked him down and landed on his stomach. I was right next to him when it happened, and he was still alive, so I sat with him until the ambulance came.”
“I didn’t know that.” Harper rested her chin on her knee and watched him talk.
“We weren’t friends, but we’d worked together for years, and I didn’t want him to be alone,” Brian said. “When the rescue team finally came, they had to lift up the pallet to get him out. All his organs had squished out to the sides. You could see his intestines smashed to the bottom of the pallet, dangling off like a dead worm.”
“Oh, my gosh, Dad.” Harper grimaced. “Why are you telling me this?”
“I’m not telling you to gross you out,” he assured her. “The point I’m making is that it was gruesome. Somehow, the pallet sitting on him was keeping him alive, I guess, because as soon as they lifted it, he died.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, since she didn’t know what else to say.
“I had nightmares about it for weeks afterwards. You could have asked your mother about it, if she still remembered.” He leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. “I was a grown man when that happened, and it was just a freak accident. Nobody had been murdered or left to rot in the trees, and it still messed me up for a while.”
“Dad.” She sighed and leaned back in her seat.
“I can’t imagine what you’re going through, honey,” Brian said gently. “But I do know that you are going through something. And it’s okay to admit it. It’s okay to be hurt and scared sometimes.”
“I know. But I’m okay.”
“I know you don’t always want to talk to me, but I hope you’re talking to somebody.” He took a sip from his coffee. “Are you going over to Alex’s today?”
“No, Gemma’s over there.”
“So? He’s your friend, too. You can be around him when Gemma is.”