And that left Gemma standing outside the dressing rooms, trying to find a way to let Kirby down gently.
“It’s really no problem giving you a ride,” Kirby said. “You’re on my way home.”
“I know, but I thought I’d walk tonight,” Gemma said. “It’s such a nice night.”
“I could walk you home,” Kirby offered.
“Kirby, the thing is, you’re a nice guy, but…” She let out a long breath when she saw his expression fall. “I just got out of a serious relationship, and I need to focus on the play, and there’s so much going on in my life. I don’t think it’s fair to you if we keep hanging out.”
“It’s fair,” he said quickly. “It’s totally fair. I’m fine with it. If you’re busy, you know, I can give you space.”
“Okay, well, I need a lot of space,” Gemma said. “Like so much space that we’re not talking or hanging out outside of the play anymore. At all. That kinda space.”
Understanding washed over his face, and he swallowed hard. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No.” She smiled sadly and shook her head. “You were perfectly wonderful.”
“Then … can I at least walk you home tonight?” Kirby asked. “Like, to say good-bye?”
“Gemma?” Daniel asked. He’d appeared at the bottom of the stairs at the end of the hall. “Is everything okay down here?”
“Yeah, everything’s fine,” Gemma assured him.
“Good,” he said, but didn’t move away. “Everyone else has gone home for the night. So … Kirby, why don’t you head on home?”
“I was going to walk Gemma home,” Kirby said.
“Why don’t you take the night off, Kirby? I’ll make sure she gets home safe,” Daniel said. “I’ve gotta swing by her house anyway to see her sister.”
Kirby looked over at Gemma, probably hoping that she would fight for him to take her, but she just shrugged and shook her head. Truthfully, she was relieved to get out of it. Kirby was harmless, but that didn’t mean she wanted to spend the next half hour turning him down.
Kirby lowered his eyes and nodded. “All right. See you later, Gemma.” He turned and walked down the hall.
Gemma waited until after he was gone before she smiled gratefully at Daniel and walked over to where he waited for her.
“Thanks,” she said. “You saved me from a really, really awkward walk home.”
“You’re only saying that because you don’t know what I have planned for conversation. I’m going to talk about all sorts of uncomfortable things.” Daniel smirked.
“So you’re really gonna walk me home?” Gemma asked as they walked up the stairs together.
“Damn straight I am,” Daniel said. “Do you have any idea what your sister would do to me if I left you to walk home unguarded in the middle of the night?”
“It’s, like, nine o’clock,” Gemma pointed out.
“You think that matters to Harper?” Daniel asked. “It’s dark. That constitutes ‘middle of the night’ to her.”
When they reached the top of the stairs, instead of going back up to the stage and through the auditorium they turned and went out the back door. Daniel held it open for her as Gemma stepped outside into the warm night air.
As soon as she stepped outside, Gemma could feel it. There was no real way to explain it. It was like something in her blood was magnetized. When the moon was full, it pulled to her, the way it pulled the tides, and the ocean seemed to call to her more loudly than normal.
“I should go swim tonight,” Gemma said, as she breathed in deeply.
“Why don’t you go home first?” Daniel asked. “I’m sure if you’re going for a night swim, Harper would feel much better about it if she were there.”
“Yeah, I will,” she agreed almost reluctantly. Not so much because she didn’t like swimming with Harper, but because it meant she’d have to wait longer to go.
Over the past few weeks, when she had to swim, she’d sometimes take Harper with her. More often she would go with Thea, and on the very rare occasion she’d gone with all three of the other sirens.
The agreement that Gemma had made with Harper was that she’d never swim alone again. As much as Harper didn’t like the sirens, like Gemma, she’d come to trust Thea. So she thought it was safer for Gemma to be around Thea than to be alone.
“If I asked you a question, would you answer me honestly?” Gemma asked as she and Daniel walked along the sidewalk.
“I would try,” Daniel said uncertainly. “But I usually don’t lie, so it’s a pretty safe bet that I’ll be straight with you.”
“Are you working on the play because of me?” Gemma asked, looking up at him to watch how he responded. “Did Harper put you up to it?”
“You’re asking if Harper wanted me to babysit you,” Daniel said, stealthily avoiding her question. “She never really used those words.”
“But she did ask you to?” Gemma pressed.
“Actually, no, she didn’t,” he said. “But I knew it would make her feel better if she knew you were safe. And it’s not like I would be happier if something bad happened to you.”
“It’s not like you’d be happier?” Gemma laughed. “Don’t lay the concern on too thick.”