As soon as she pushed the door open to Pearl’s, the air-conditioning sent a refreshing chill over her, and she already felt a bit better. The idea to take a walk in the suffocating heat had been a bad one, but the cooler temperature of the diner was well on its way to correcting her mistake.
Harper pulled up a stool at the counter, sat on the cracked vinyl, and ordered a glass of ice water. When Daniel came in, she’d probably order something more, but for now, rehydrating and cooling off were her main priorities.
“You should take a swim,” a husky voice said from beside her.
With her glass of ice water pressed to her cheek, Harper hadn’t been paying attention to who was coming or going in the diner. She lowered the glass and glanced over to see Thea climbing up on the stool next to her.
“I don’t like swimming,” Harper replied. She sat up straighter and stirred her water with the straw.
“You really are the exact opposite of your sister.” Thea set her purse on the counter. She rummaged through it for a second before taking out a hair tie. As she spoke, she leaned back and pulled her long red hair up into a ponytail. “The two of you are night and day.”
“What about you?” Harper gave her a sidelong glance. “How much are you and your sister alike?”
“What can I get for you today?” Pearl asked Thea, interrupting their conversation.
“Just a cherry malt.” Thea smiled sweetly at her.
Pearl smiled back at her, but seemed to flounder for a minute, like a starstruck teenager meeting her idol. Even without using her song, Thea still had the power to captivate men and women alike.
“The bonds between sisters are very complex things,” Thea said once Pearl had left to fill her order. She rested her arms on the faded counter and looked over at Harper. “You must understand that better than anyone.”
“I suppose I do,” Harper agreed.
“You and I really have a lot in common,” Thea went on. “Like you, I’m the oldest.”
“Penn is younger than you?” Harper asked, glancing over at her.
“Yeah,” Thea said. Pearl brought her the malt, and Thea politely thanked her. She took a long sip before speaking to Harper again. “Most people think that Penn is older. It’s a common misconception.”
“She’s pretty bossy,” Harper said.
“That’s my fault.” Thea smiled sadly. “Our mothers weren’t around when we were children, leaving me to essentially raise Penn and Aggie. Penn was the youngest, and I overindulged her.”
“I can understand that.” Harper propped her chin up on her hand and watched Thea. “But that was a very long time ago. If Penn turned out to be a spoiled brat, why haven’t you corrected it?”
“If you really stand up to Penn and tell her no…” Thea trailed off. “Well, let’s just say you don’t get a chance to ever tell her no again.”
“Lovely,” Harper muttered. “And I’m sure that Gemma is already in the habit of telling her no.”
“Don’t worry about Gemma,” Thea said. “She’s your sister, but she’s my sister now, too.”
Harper looked at her dubiously. “You’re saying you’re protecting her?”
“Something like that.” Thea took another long drink of her malt. “Gemma reminds me a bit of Persephone.”
“The girl that you let get murdered before?” Harper asked.
“There’s one good thing about making mistakes.” Thea turned to her with a smile. “You learn not to make them again.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Harper asked. “What are you hoping to gain?”
“I like Gemma, and I’d like her to stay with us for a very long time,” Thea said. “Lexi is annoying, and Penn is … well, Penn is Penn. I want someone on my side for a change.”
“And you think that’s Gemma?” Harper asked.
“I think she could be, yes,” Thea said. “And I think the biggest thing holding her back from really committing, from really joining us, is you.”
Harper shook her head. “The biggest reason she doesn’t want to join you is because you’re evil and Penn is a monster. You are a monster.”
“If Gemma really commits to us and really tries, I can assure you that I’ll do everything in my power to keep her safe and alive and happy,” Thea said. “But if she keeps going against Penn and keeps trying to break away, I can’t protect her.”
Harper swallowed hard. “I can’t make this choice for her.”
“Maybe not, but you can let her go.” Thea pulled a few dollars out of her purse and left them on the counter. “I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you will,” Harper said as Thea slid off the stool.
Once Thea was gone, Harper rested her head in her hands. For the first time, she wondered if it might really be in Gemma’s best interest to remain a siren. It was a very high price to pay, but if she was alive and happy, that had to be a better choice than being dead.
Visiting their mom the day before had completely drained their dad. In truth, it had drained all of them, but it hit Brian the worst.
The rest of the day he was out in the garage supposedly working on a project. But when Harper sent Gemma out to get him for supper, he’d just been leaning against his workbench, drinking a beer and staring off into space.