“I have to go,” Gemma said and suddenly stood up.
“What?” Harper asked. “Why? Where are you going?”
“I forgot that play rehearsal starts early tonight,” Gemma lied. “But it’s good. It’ll give me a chance to talk to Thea more.”
“Okay,” Harper said, but she seemed confused. “Do you want me to give you a ride?”
“No, I got it, but thanks.” Gemma smiled at her. “I’ll see you later.”
She practically ran downstairs and grabbed her bike. Before she did, she pulled her phone out of her pocket and hurriedly texted Daniel so he’d cover for her if Harper asked about play rehearsal.
At their nightly play rehearsal and through texts, Gemma had been keeping Daniel apprised of their situation, as per their deal. He’d been giving Harper little bits of info about Gemma to keep her from getting suspicious, like telling her that Gemma had dumped Kirby and was flirting with Aiden.
But he left out all the major details—like that Thea wouldn’t help her or that the sirens had found a possible replacement. Daniel had encouraged her to tell Harper about that, but Gemma couldn’t. It was her turn to protect Harper for a change.
Besides, there might not be any reason to tell her about this. She still might break the curse.
Pedaling faster than she ever had before, Gemma made it down to Anthemusa Bay in record time. She ditched the bike among the cypress trees, along with her cell phone, shoes, and shorts. For once, she wasn’t wearing a bikini under her clothes, so she’d have to swim in her bra, but she didn’t care.
Despite how quickly she swam, it seemed to take forever to reach the mouth of the river. She didn’t even enjoy the feel of the water or the current rushing against her mermaid tail. All she could focus on was getting there and finding the scroll.
Lydia had said that the paper couldn’t be damaged by water, so Gemma thought that the sirens had probably hidden it somewhere underwater. Possibly underneath a rock or in a box or something buried in the floor of the river.
Following her hunch, she began to swim up the Achelous River, turning over rocks and grabbing at anything on the riverbed that looked even mildly interesting. She hadn’t made it very far when the strangest thing started happening to her.
It got harder to breathe, and the scales on her tail were shifting back into flesh, but only odd patches. At first Gemma began to panic, assuming she was dying. She hurriedly swam back toward the ocean, and the odd changes stopped. She was her usual mermaid self.
That was when Gemma realized the river was freshwater—that had no effect on her. It was the same reason she didn’t turn into a mermaid in the pool or the shower. Only ocean water made the change happen.
That meant that the sirens probably hadn’t gone that far up the river. So Gemma focused her search on places where she could swim, staying mostly near the mouth of the river, but as the evening progressed, Gemma swam farther and farther upstream.
Once the moon was high in the sky, Gemma pulled herself up near a sandy beach next to the river. She stayed in deep enough so the water would cover her fins, and the waves splashed against her waist.
The stars were twinkling above her, and she leaned back, staring up at them. Her hands were sore from digging up the riverbed and even some of the ocean floor. Her tail ached from swimming, and the hunger made her stomach rumble.
Gemma had looked everywhere she could. The scroll wasn’t there. Either it never had been, or the sirens had moved it. It didn’t really matter which of those options it was. All this really meant was that Gemma had to come up with a different plan of attack, because this one wasn’t working.
“I love him,” Penn breathed as she flung herself backward into her bed. In the three months that Bastian had been staying with them in France, Thea had heard Penn utter those same words a hundred times.
“You’re being dramatic, don’t you think?” Aggie asked. She sat perched on the edge of her sister’s bed, watching Penn sigh and coo over her newfound romance with Bastian.
“No, I love him.” Penn smiled so broadly it looked painful to Thea, who preferred to stay at the edge of the room to watch Penn’s daily declarations of undying love to Bastian.
“But he doesn’t love you,” Thea pointed out, and Aggie and Gia immediately turned their heads to face Thea in shock.
Thea was certain that her own expression of shock and horror mirrored theirs. While she’d thought that same sentiment at least a hundred times before, it was the first time she’d actually said it aloud. Her irritation had grown to be too much, and she couldn’t contain it anymore.
“He doesn’t love me,” Penn said, her voice flat, and then she sat up with a start. “It’s the damn curse. He can’t love me. We have to get rid of it.”
“Get rid of it?” Gia asked. She sat on the other side of Penn, her fair skin paling further at the thought of undoing their curse. “We mustn’t do that. We don’t know the repercussions.”
“I’m in love, Gia,” Penn insisted, imploring her to understand. “I can’t let anything get in the way of that.”
“But Gia is right,” Aggie said. “If we attempt to undo the curse, we might undo ourselves. Remember what happened to the minotaurs? When they repealed their curse, they made themselves extinct.”
“Don’t be so simple,” Penn growled and got up. “We’ll find our father or Demeter. One of them will know how to get rid of this without killing us.”