“I do,” she insisted. “So leave me alone. I don’t want to see you ever again.”
She turned and bolted away from him. With her broken heart pounding in her chest, Gemma pushed herself as fast as she could.
Tears blurred her vision, but it didn’t matter. She didn’t need to see where she was going anyway. The sea called to her, telling her exactly where she needed to go.
When Gemma hit the water, the song finally stopped. Her legs turned to a tail, and she breathed in deeply.
Transforming into her mermaid form had silenced the watersong, and she closed her eyes, listening for the sirens. She couldn’t hear them, not exactly, but she could feel them. The sirens drew her to them, the same way the ocean did.
If they hadn’t had that connection, Gemma probably never would’ve found the sirens. Instead of going to the cove like she’d thought she would, Gemma found herself pulled out to sea, to Bernie’s Island a few miles off Anthemusa Bay.
Before Gemma had even surfaced, she heard the loud music blasting. It was Ke$ha, and that didn’t seem like something Bernie would listen to.
Gemma pulled herself up onto the dock, which was more difficult than it sounded since she couldn’t use her fish tail to help her. From that vantage point, she could see Bernie’s cabin through the trees, all lit up like a lighthouse.
Once her tail had returned to her usual leggy form, Gemma rummaged through her backpack and pulled on clothes. They were soaking wet, but it was better than being naked.
She walked along the dock to the trail that wound up to Bernie’s cabin. The windows were wide open, so the music came blaring out at full volume. Gemma snuck up to them, wanting to see what they were doing before she went in.
Lexi was jumping up and down on the couch, doing some kind of weird dance move. Her mouth moved along with the lyrics, but no words came out.
Rummaging through a cupboard nearby was Thea. The whole cabin looked ransacked, and by the way Thea went through stuff and tossed it around, it was obvious why. Gemma couldn’t tell if Thea was looking for anything in particular or not.
Neither Penn nor Bernie was anywhere to be seen, so Gemma crept around the cabin to another window, hoping she could see more from there.
“I’m glad you decided to join us,” Penn said, and Gemma jumped back. Penn had somehow come up right beside her, and Gemma hadn’t heard her.
Penn smiled at her, and Gemma hurried to compose herself. The last thing in the world she wanted was for Penn to know how much she’d scared her.
“I haven’t decided anything yet,” Gemma replied coolly, and Penn only smiled wider.
“Oh!” Lexi exclaimed inside the cabin. “Is Gemma here?” The music stopped short, so the only sounds came from the ocean around them and the wind through the trees.
“Come inside.” Penn took a step backward, then turned around and went into the cabin. Swallowing hard, Gemma followed her.
Lexi had gotten down off the couch, but Thea continued her searching. She crouched in front of the sink, pulling out containers of Comet and drain cleaner.
“Thea, I think it’s safe to assume there’s nothing valuable under the sink,” Penn said as she carefully stepped over all the things Thea’d tossed on the kitchen floor.
“This is a waste of time anyway.” Thea sighed and got to her feet. “Gemma’s here. Can we go now?”
“I don’t know.” Penn faced Gemma and leaned on the back of the couch. “Gemma says she’s not sure if she’s coming with us or not.”
Thea groaned and rolled her eyes. “Oh, please.”
“Where’s Bernie?” Gemma asked.
“Who?” Lexi asked.
“Bernie.” Gemma brushed past them to check out the bedroom in the back. She pushed open the door, but only found more of the mess she’d seen in the rest of the cabin. “Bernie? Mr. McAllister?”
When she didn’t see him, she turned back to the sirens. Penn and Thea just watched her, but Lexi played with her hair and looked at the floor.
“Where is he?” Gemma asked. “What did you do to him? Did you hurt him?”
“He gave us the place.” Penn shrugged. “You know how persuasive we can be.”
“Where is he?” Gemma repeated, her voice getting harder. “Did you kill him the way you did those other boys?”
“I’d hardly call that old man a ‘boy,’” Penn said, her tone teasing.
“Stop it!” Gemma yelled, and Lexi flinched. “You said you told me the truth, but you didn’t. I know you’ve been killing people, and you didn’t tell me that.”
“I didn’t lie,” Penn scoffed. “I never said, We don’t kill people, Gemma.”
Her stomach dropped. “So you admit it.”
“Yes. I admit it.” As she stepped closer to Gemma, she smiled and tilted her head, her voice silky and sweet. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. But it’s only one little detail.”
“One little detail?” Gemma stepped back. “You’re murderers!”
“We’re not murderers!” Lexi said defensively. “At least, not any more than a hunter is, than you are when you eat a hamburger. We do what we have to do to live.”
“You’re cannibals?” Gemma’s jaw dropped, and she kept stepping back. She wasn’t looking where she was going and nearly tripped over a book, but she caught herself on the wall.
“That’s why we don’t lead with that,” Penn explained in a way that sounded so reasonable, so logical that it sent chills down Gemma’s spine. “We have eternal youth and unmatched beauty. We can change form into magical, mythical creatures. So we survive on mortal blood. What’s that one little thing, when we get so much in return?”
“One little thing?” Gemma asked, laughing darkly. “You’re monsters!”
“Don’t.” Penn pursed her lips and shook her head. “I hate the word monster.”
Gemma stood straight and moved away from the wall so she wasn’t leaning on it anymore. She met Penn’s dark eyes. “I just call it like I see it, and right now, standing in front of me, all I see is a monster.”
“Gemma,” Lexi said, her voice quavering slightly. “Don’t push her.”
“You really have no idea what you’re messing with,” Thea agreed.
“It’s okay.” Penn held up her hand toward Thea and Lexi but kept her eyes locked on Gemma. “She’s just forgotten her place. She’s forgotten that she is one of us now.”