Wake, p.4
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       Wake, p.4

         Part #1 of The Watersong Quartet series by Amanda Hocking
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“Harper!” Gemma groaned. “Can you stop being logical for a second and admit that those girls give you the creeps?”

  “There’s nothing to admit,” Harper lied. She turned off the engine and changed the subject. “Are you going to have Dad look at your car?”

  “Tomorrow, when it’s not raining. ” Gemma grabbed her gym bag from the backseat. She hopped out of the car and ran into the house, and Harper hurried behind her.

  As soon as they’d pulled in the driveway, Harper had had the strangest feeling that they were being followed, and she couldn’t shake it.

  When she went inside, she locked the front door behind her, and listened to Gemma and Brian chat about the day.

  The house already smelled like pizza, thanks to Brian’s homemade sauce. But despite the cozy atmosphere, Harper couldn’t help herself. She peered through the peephole in the door and scanned the street around them, but saw nothing. It took about fifteen minutes for her to settle into being home, and she still couldn’t convince herself that they weren’t being watched.

  FOUR

  Mother

  “Sorry, honey, but this is an all-day project,” Brian said with his head under the hood of Gemma’s Chevy. Black—presumably oil or other car fluids—smudged his arms and stained his old work shirt.

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  “I understand,” Harper said. She hadn’t expected a different answer from him, but that didn’t stop her from asking. “Maybe another time. ”

  Brian didn’t look up at her. All his attention seemed to be focused on the engine, but he always managed to find something to occupy his time on Saturdays so he wouldn’t have to go with Harper and Gemma.

  “Okay. ” Harper sighed and twisted her own car keys in her hand. “I guess we’ll get going, then. ”

  The screen door slammed, and Harper glanced back at Gemma, who’d just stepped outside. Gemma wore dark oversized sunglasses, but her lips were pressed into a thin line, so Harper knew she was glaring at their father.

  “He’s not coming, is he?” Gemma asked, crossing her arms over her chest.

  “Not today,” Harper said gently, trying to calm her sister.

  “Sorry, babe. ” Brian pulled his head out from under the hood and gestured to the bright sun shining overhead. “I want to get this looked at while the weather holds. ”

  “Whatever,” Gemma scoffed and stalked off to Harper’s car.

  “Gemma!” Harper called after her, but Gemma just shook her head.

  “Let her go,” Brian told Harper.

  Gemma got in the car, slamming the door loudly. Harper knew she was upset, and she even understood it, but that didn’t mean Gemma should act so rude.

  “Sorry, Dad. ” Harper smiled wanly at him. “She’s…” She waved her hands in the air, unsure exactly how to describe Gemma.

  “No, it’s okay. ” Brian squinted up at the sun for a moment, then turned back to the car. He had a wrench in one of his hands, and he tapped it absently against the car. “She’s right. I know it, and you know it. But I…”

  He didn’t say anything, and his shoulders slacked. His expression tightened, hardening as he tried to hold his emotions in. Harper hated to see her father like that and wished she could say something to make it better.

  “I understand, Dad,” Harper insisted. “I really do. ” She reached out, touching him on the shoulder, before being interrupted by the loud blast of her car horn.

  “She’s waiting for us, Harper!” Gemma shouted from the car.

  “Sorry. ” Harper stepped backward, going to her car. “I gotta go. We’ll be back later. ”

  “Take your time,” Brian said. He bent over the engine, keeping his back to Harper. “Have fun. ”

  Harper wanted to say more to her dad, but with the way Gemma was acting, she didn’t want to push it. Gemma was impatient to begin with, but when she was upset on top of that, she could be downright impossible.

  “You are so rude,” Harper said as soon as she got in the car.

  “I’m rude?” Gemma asked in disbelief. “I’m not the one who’s bailing out on Mom. ”

  “Shh!” Harper started the car and turned on the stereo, hoping to drown out Gemma so Brian couldn’t hear. “He’s staying back to work on your car. ”

  “No, he’s not. ” Gemma shook her head. She leaned back in the seat, her arms crossed firmly over her chest. “He could work on my car any other day. He’s staying back the same reason he stays back every Saturday. ”

  “You don’t know what this is like for him. ”

  As they pulled away from the house, Harper looked up in her rearview mirror. Brian was standing in the driveway, appearing uncharacteristically lost.

  “And he doesn’t know what it’s like for us,” Gemma countered. “The point is that it is hard for all of us, but we make it work. ”

  “Everybody deals with things in their own way,” Harper said. “We can’t force him to visit her. I don’t even know why it’s bothering you so much today. It’s been over a year since he’s seen her. ”

  “I don’t know,” Gemma admitted. “Sometimes it just gets to me. Maybe today it was because he was using me as an excuse not to see Mom. ”

  “You mean because he’s fixing your car?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “She’ll still be happy to see us. ” Harper glanced over at Gemma and tried to smile at her, but Gemma was staring out the window. “It doesn’t matter if anybody else comes or not. We’re doing the best we can by her, and she knows it. ”

  Every Saturday that the weather permitted, Harper and Gemma made the twenty-minute drive to the group home up in Briar Ridge. It was the closest group home specializing in traumatic brain injury, and that was where their mother had lived for the past seven years.

  One day nine years ago, Nathalie had been driving Harper to a pizza party when a drunk driver sideswiped them. Harper had been left with a long scar running down her thigh, but her mother had ended up in a coma for nearly six months.

  Harper had been convinced she would die, but Gemma had never given up hope. When Nathalie finally came out of it, she barely remembered how to speak or do basic self-care. She stayed in the hospital for a long time, relearning how to do everything. Over time, some of her memories came back.

  But she was never quite the same. Her motor skills were very poor, and her ability to remember and reason were drastically impaired. Nathalie had always been caring and loving, but after the accident, she struggled to empathize with anyone.

  After a brief but chaotic stint keeping her at home, Brian eventually had to move Nathalie into the group home.

  From the outside, the home looked like an ordinary rambler. It was nice without being overly so, and even on the inside it wasn’t that different. Nathalie shared the home with two other roommates, and the home had twenty-four-hour staffing.

  As soon as Harper pulled into the driveway, Nathalie burst out the front door, running toward them. That was a good sign. Sometimes when they came she would just sit in her room, crying quietly the entire time.

  “My girls are here!” Nathalie clapped her hands together, barely containing herself as they got out of the car. “I told them you were coming today!”

  Nathalie threw her arms around Harper, squeezing her so tightly it hurt. When Gemma came around the car, Nathalie pulled her into the embrace, holding them uncomfortably close.

  “I’m so glad my girls are here,” Nathalie murmured. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you. ”

  “We’re glad to see you, too,” Gemma said, once she’d pulled herself free from Nathalie’s hug. “But we were here just last week. ”

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  “Were you really?” Nathalie narrowed her eyes and looked over the girls, as if she didn’t quite believe them.

  “Yes, we visit you every Saturday,” Harper reminded her.

  Nathalie’s brow furrowed in confusion, and Harper held her breath, wonde
ring if she’d done the right thing by correcting her mom. When she was confused or frustrated, Nathalie’s temper had a tendency to get the best of her.

  “You look really nice today,” Gemma said, rushing to change the subject.

  “Do I?” Nathalie looked down at her Justin Bieber T-shirt and smiled. “I do love Justin. ”

  While Harper had taken more after their father, Gemma had gotten her looks from Nathalie. She was slender and beautiful, looking more like a model than a mother. She kept her brown hair long, covering the scars etched on her scalp from the accident. A few locks had been put in narrow braids, and a strand in her bangs had been strung with hot pink beads.

  “You both look so good!” Nathalie admired her daughters and touched Gemma’s bare arm. “You’re so tan! How do you get so tan?”

  “I spend a lot of time in the water,” Gemma said.

  “Right, right, right. ” Nathalie closed her eyes and rubbed her temple. “You’re a swimmer. ”

  “I am. ” Gemma smiled and nodded, proud of her mother for remembering something she’d told her a thousand times before.

  “Well, come in!” Nathalie erased the pained expression from her face and gestured toward the house. “I told them you were coming today, so they let me make cookies! We should eat them while they’re still warm. ”

  She looped her arm around Gemma’s shoulders, walking with her into the house. The staff greeted them, and by now they knew more about Gemma’s and Harper’s lives than Nathalie did.

  Not that Nathalie didn’t try to learn about her daughters. She just couldn’t remember.

  Nathalie claimed she’d made the cookies, but the Chips Ahoy! wrapper sat right next to the plate that she’d dumped them on. She did that a lot, for reasons Harper didn’t completely understand. Nathalie would lie about little things, making claims that Harper and Gemma knew weren’t true.

  At first they’d called her on it. Harper would calmly explain why they knew it wasn’t true, but Nathalie would get irate when caught in a lie. She’d once thrown a glass at Gemma. It missed her but had shattered against the wall and cut Gemma’s ankle.

  So now they simply smiled and ate the cookies when Nathalie talked about how she’d made them. She grabbed the plate of cookies and led the girls back to her bedroom.

  “It’s so much better in here,” Nathalie said, shutting the door behind them. “Without people watching over us. ”

  Nathalie sat back on her narrow twin bed, and Gemma sat next to her. Harper stayed standing, never feeling quite comfortable in her mother’s room.

  Posters covered the wall—mostly of Justin Bieber, Nathalie’s current favorite—but there was also a poster for the last Harry Potter movie and one of a puppy cuddling with a duck. Stuffed animals littered the bed, and the clothes overflowing the hamper had more color and glitter than the average adult wardrobe.

  “Do you guys want to listen to music?” Nathalie asked. Before either of them could answer, she jumped off the bed and went over to her stereo. “I just got some new CDs. What do you like to listen to? I have everything. ”

  “Whatever you want is fine,” Gemma said. “We came here to visit you. ”

  “You guys can pick something. ” Nathalie smiled, but there was something sad about it. “They won’t let me listen to it too loud, but we can still listen to it softly. ”

  “Justin Bieber?” Harper suggested, not because she wanted to hear it, but because she knew it was something Nathalie would have.

  “He’s the best, isn’t he?” Nathalie actually squealed when she hit play and music came out of the speakers.

  She hopped on the bed next to Gemma, making the cookies bounce off the plate. Gemma picked them up, arranging them the same way her mother had had them, but Nathalie didn’t even notice.

  “So, Mom, how are things going?” Harper asked.

  “Same old. ” Nathalie shrugged. “I wish I lived with you guys. ”

  “I know,” Harper said. “But you know it’s best for you here. ”

  “Maybe you can come visit,” Gemma said. It was an offer she’d been making for years, but Nathalie hadn’t been home in a very long time.

  “I don’t want to visit. ” She pouted, sticking out her bottom lip and pulling at the hem of her T-shirt. “I bet you guys have fun all the time. Nobody ever tells you what to do. ”

  “Harper tells me what to do all the time. ” Gemma laughed. “And of course there’s Dad. ”

  “Oh. Right,” Nathalie said. “I forgot about him. ” Her forehead pinched in concentration. “What’s his name again?”

  “Brian. ” Harper smiled to hide the hurt and swallowed hard. “Dad’s name is Brian. ”

  “I thought it was Justin. ” She waved her hand, brushing off the subject. “Did you guys want to go to the concert with me if I can get tickets?”

  “I don’t think so,” Harper said. “We’ve got a lot going on. ”

  The conversation went on that way for a while. Nathalie asked about the girls’ lives, and they told her things they’d told her a hundred times before. When they left, Harper felt the same way she always did—drained but relieved.

  She loved her mother, just as Gemma loved her mother, and they were both glad they saw her. But Harper couldn’t help wondering what any of them got out of this.

  FIVE

  Stargazing

  The garbage can smelled like a dead animal. Gemma wrinkled her nose and tried to avoid gagging as she tossed the bag in the can behind her house. She had no idea what her father or Harper had thrown away, but it was pretty rank.

  Waving her hand in front of her face, she stepped away. Gemma breathed in the fresh night air as deeply as she could.

  She glanced over at the neighbors’ house. Lately she found herself glancing over at it more and more, as if subconsciously looking for Alex. This time she was in luck. In the glow from her backyard light, she saw Alex sprawled out on his lawn, staring up at the sky.

  “What are you doing?” Gemma asked, walking into Alex’s backyard without waiting to be invited.

  “Looking at constellations,” Alex said, but she’d already known the answer before she’d asked. For as long as she’d known him, he’d spent more time with his head in the stars than here on the ground.

  Page 12

  He lay on his back, his fingers latched behind his head, an old blanket beneath him. The Batman T-shirt was actually a bit small for him, a leftover from before his recent growth spurt. The muscles in his arms and his broad shoulders pulled at the fabric. The T-shirt had pulled up a bit, so she could see a hint of his belly above his jeans, and Gemma quickly looked away and pretended she hadn’t noticed.

  “Mind if I join you?”

  “Uh, no. Of course not. ” Alex quickly scooted over, making room for her on the blanket.

  “Thanks. ”

  The blanket wasn’t very big, so when Gemma sat down, she was right next to him. As she lay back, her head bumped his elbow. To avoid that, Alex moved his arm so it was in between them. Now his arm was pressed against hers, and she tried not to think about how warm his skin felt.

  “So … what exactly are you looking at?” Gemma asked.

  “I’ve shown you the constellations before,” Alex said, and he had, many times. But most of those times had been when she was younger and she hadn’t hung on his words like she did now.

  “I was just wondering if there was anything in particular you were watching. ”

  “No. Not really. I just love the stars. ”

  “Is that what you’re going to college for?”

  “Stars?” Alex asked. “Kind of, I guess. I mean, it’s not like I’ll be an astronaut or anything. ”

  “Why not?” She tilted her head so she could look over at him.

  “I don’t know. ” He shifted on the blanket, and his hand brushed against Gemma’s. “Going into outer space is an awesome dream, yeah, but I’d rather st
ay on the ground and make a difference. I want to study and track the weather and the atmosphere. It could save lives if people knew about storms sooner. ”

  “You’d rather be down here watching the sky instead of up in it because you can help people?” Gemma asked.

  She stared at him, surprised by how much he’d grown up. Not just in the strong line of his jaw, or the trail of dark hair she’d seen on his belly. But something had changed inside him. At some point he’d stopped being the boy who obsessed over video games and had become somebody concerned with the world around him.

  “Yeah. ” He shrugged and turned to face her. They lay on the blanket staring at each other for a minute, and then Alex smirked. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?”

  “I’m not looking at you like anything,” Gemma said, but she quickly looked away, afraid that he might see something in her expression.

  “You think it’s weird, right?” Alex asked, still watching her. “You think I’m a geek for wanting to watch weather patterns. ”

  “No, that’s not what I’m thinking at all. ” She smiled out of embarrassment over what she was really thinking. “I mean, you are a geek. But that’s not what I was thinking. ”

  “I am a geek,” Alex agreed, and Gemma laughed. Then, apparently without thinking, he said, “You’re really pretty. ”

  The instant he said it, he turned away from her rigidly.

  “I’m sorry. I can’t believe I just said that. I don’t know why I said that,” Alex said in one rushed breath. “I’m sorry. ”

  Gemma lay there for a minute, staring up at the stars while Alex squirmed in embarrassment next to her. She didn’t say anything at first, because she wasn’t sure what to say or what to make of his random admission.

  “Did you … you just called me pretty,” Gemma said finally, her tone questioning.

  “Yeah, I didn’t…” Alex sat up, as if trying to put some distance between them. “I don’t know why I said that. It just slipped out. ”

  “It just slipped out?” Gemma said teasingly and sat up next to him.

  He leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees, and kept his back to her. “Yeah. ” He sighed. “You laughed, and I just thought you looked really pretty, and for some reason, it just … I just said it. It was like I forgot how to control my mouth or something. ”

  “Wait. ” She smiled, the kind of smile she couldn’t contain. “You think I’m pretty?”

  “Well, yeah. ” He sighed again and rubbed his arm. “Of course I do. I mean, you are very pretty. You know that. ” He looked up at the sky and cursed under his breath. “I don’t know why I just told you that. ”

  “It’s okay. ” Gemma moved closer to him, sitting next to him but slightly behind him, so her shoulder pressed up against his. “I think you’re pretty, too. ”

  “You think I’m pretty?” Alex smiled and turned to look at her, so his face was right in front of hers.

  “Yep,” she assured him with a grin.

  “I’m a guy. Guys aren’t pretty. ”

  “You are. ” Her smile softened, giving way to a slightly nervous and hopeful look.

  Alex’s dark eyes searched her face, and he paled. He looked downright terrified, and even though the moment felt perfect, Gemma was starting to think he wouldn’t take it.

 
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