“I’m not not living.” Harper tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “I’m sorry if I don’t see the point in fooling around with some guy for a few weeks. If I weren’t leaving in the fall, it would be different.”
“No, it wouldn’t,” Gemma corrected her. “Before this, you couldn’t date because you had to take care of me or keep your grades up for school. Now it’s because you’ll be leaving for college, and once you’re at college you won’t have time for a relationship until after you graduate, and then you won’t have time because you’re looking for a job, and then it’ll be something else.”
“Well…” Harper twisted her ring on her finger. “All those things are true.”
“Not really. Lots of other people somehow manage to go to school and have a life,” Gemma said. “Everything I listed there, those are just excuses.”
“Concentrating on school is a valid life decision,” Harper argued. “We didn’t have money for college, and if I hadn’t worked my butt off to get that scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to go.”
“No, I know.” Gemma sighed. “But you’ve been using both me and school as a shield to keep you from getting close to people. I’m not always gonna be around to act as a buffer. Someday you need to have real relationships with other people or you’ll risk ending up alone.”
“Wow.” Harper laughed darkly. “You make me sound like an old maid.”
“No, you’re not. I don’t think that, even. I just … all I’m saying is that maybe spending some time with Daniel this summer wouldn’t be such a bad thing.”
It wasn’t until she’d said it that Gemma realized what she was doing. She was trying to take care of Harper. If Gemma left tonight, she needed to know that her sister wouldn’t be alone, that she’d have someone to lean on. Harper didn’t think she needed anyone, but she did, and apparently Daniel had seen through her act and knew it, too.
Without thinking, Gemma went over and hugged her sister. Startled and confused, Harper just stood there for a second, then wrapped her arms around Gemma and hugged her back.
“I don’t know what’s gotten into you,” Harper said. “But I think I like it.”
After they finished cleaning up the kitchen, Harper went upstairs to read a book, the way she usually did after supper. Gemma stayed down in the living room, watching TV with her dad for a little while. When he got up to go to bed, Gemma hugged him and told him she loved him.
Harper usually stayed up pretty late reading. Gemma had to wait until after she fell asleep to leave, but she pretended to go to bed. Not that she could sleep. The watersong always seemed to get worse at night, and it had kept her awake almost the whole night before.
She kept her bedroom door open, staring at the crack of light coming out from under Harper’s door. When it finally clicked off, signifying that Harper was going to bed, Gemma waited another half hour just to be safe.
Without turning on her own light, she crept around her room. Her backpack hung on her closet door, and she started filling it with her personal belongings. It was hard to know what to bring, though.
She wasn’t even certain that she would go off with the sirens. She just knew she couldn’t stay here. If she chose to die, she didn’t want her family to see that. It would be better if they just thought she’d run away. Then they could imagine she was alive out there somewhere.
The only thing she could really do for her family was leave them with some hope.
In the end, she decided on a few clothes and the picture of herself, Harper, and her mom from next to her bed. She carefully pulled the photo from the frame and tucked it into a plastic bag. Everything else she left behind in her room.
Before going, she paused at her bedroom door and thought of writing a note. But what would she possibly say? What could she tell them?
Gemma stepped outside, closing the back door behind her as quietly as she could. She glanced next door at Alex’s house, where his bedroom light glowed. The window was open, and she could hear the faint sounds of whatever music he was listening to.
All day long Gemma had been working on getting her life in order, but she’d purposely avoided seeing Alex. It was hard enough leaving her sister and her dad. She didn’t think she could handle talking to Alex.
So she put her head down and walked across the lawn. She cut through his backyard, because it was the quickest way to the bay. The watersong got even louder when she was outside, begging her to swim.
“Gemma!” Alex said from behind her, and she heard his screen door slam. Gemma just kept walking, though, so he chased after her. “Gemma!”
“Shh!” She whirled around. If she didn’t talk to him, he’d make enough noise to wake up her sister. “What are you doing out here?”
“I saw you from the window.” He’d stopped a few feet from her. “What are you doing out here?”
“I’m sorry. I have to leave.”
“You shouldn’t be out here alone, not with the killer on the loose.” He took a step back toward his house. “I’ll go get my shoes and I’ll come with you.”
“No, Alex.” She shook her head. “I’m leaving for good.”
“What?” Even in the dim moonlight, she could see the hurt and confusion on his face. “Where are you going?”
“I don’t know, but you can’t come with me.”
“What?” He stepped toward her, and when he did, she stepped back.
“Alex, I can’t do this.”
“What?” Alex asked. “What can’t you do?”
“Say good-bye to you.” She swallowed back tears and tried to ignore the pain in her heart.
“Then don’t,” he said simply. “Stay here, with me.”
“No, I can’t.” She started to step back, and he followed her, saying her name. “No, Alex. You can’t come with. I don’t want you to.”
“Gemma, if something’s wrong I can help.”
“No.” She shook her head and realized that the only way she’d stop him was if she hurt him. “You don’t get it, Alex. I don’t want you. I don’t even like you. You’re boring and lame. I was just using you because you had a car, but … I don’t want you anymore.”
His whole face fell. “You don’t mean that.”