AUTHOR’S NOTE: The Star and the Ocean underwent structural revisions in September 2016. This particular chapter can now be found as the new chapters 14 and 15. I highly encourage you to read from these new chapters instead!
Chapter Seven – They didn’t even give you a chance
The following Wednesday, May was at Ora’s house and completely distracted.
“May, are you listening to me?”
May was going back and forth, trying to decide whether or not she should have turned down Em’s offer to feel what it was like to float. She had a small fear of heights (“How can that be?” Em had laughed. “You live in a tree!”) and the idea of being held aloft by a hovering half-human hadn’t struck her as a good idea at the time, but now she was regretting saying no.
I’ll bet she’d let me try again if I asked, May thought.
After two failed attempts at getting her sister’s attention, Ora resorted to raising her voice, breaking May from her reverie.
May gave her head a shake with a small sound of surprise. “I’m sorry, what were you saying? I was miles away.”
“Apparently!” Ora laughed but May was all too familiar with the many ways her sister masked annoyance. From the breakfast table, Omi looked up to watch their exchange; he clearly recognized it too. “I asked if you were still planning on coming to dinner on Saturday. We missed you last weekend.”
May tensed. She and her siblings usually gathered at the family home for dinner with their parents every weekend. The tradition had started when Ora – the eldest of the three – first moved out. It was a rare thing to miss it, and the fact that she was now going to have to cancel two in a row made May’s insides squirm.
“I don’t know,” she cringed, unable to look Ora in the eyes as she lied. “The show is taking up more time than I was expecting. They might call me in early for rehearsals again.”
May hated lying to her sister, but what else could she do? She didn’t want to leave Em alone more than she already had to, and she couldn’t tell anyone about her either; at least not yet. Many people in Omaea were still wary about mainlanders. If her family knew May had opened her home to some unknown woman? She shuddered just thinking about it.
The first day after Em’s confession had been a tense one. Still, May had been willing to try and understand. When she removed Star-powered magic from the equation, Em was still the charming stranger May found herself so inexplicably drawn to. That certainly made it easier to suspend her disbelief.
Not that it was fair to call either of them strangers now. Opening up to May brought out a whole new side of Em – a side that was more confident and talkative than before. After a brief warming period, she won May over with her eagerness to share anything and everything.
Many of the days following Em’s big reveal involved sharing from both sides. Em had watched with genuine admiration as May showed her the conveyance system she had developed for harvesting and moving fresh water around her tree-top home. She had been just as impressed when May offhandedly mentioned that she knew how to surf.
“That is so cool,” Em had marvelled. “You’re so damn talented, May!”
“No, I’m not,” May demurred, acting humble despite being thoroughly flattered. “This is an island; you either learn to live with water or you drown.”
For her part, Em demonstrated the scope of her otherworldly abilities with the zeal of a stage performer.
“What other magic tricks can you do?” May had asked, watching in awe as Em twisted gracefully mid-air for what had to be the dozenth time. It was a mesmerizing thing to behold: almost like dancing.
Em pulled a face. “Calling it magic makes me sound like some kind of hokey birthday party magician.”
“What do you call it then?” May laughed, waving a hand in the space beneath Em’s feet as she hovered.
Em tapped the top of May’s head with her toes before gently bringing herself back down to the ground. “I call it an ability. There’s nothing mystical about it as far as I’m concerned – I’m just able to manipulate the energy around me in a way that other people can’t.”
“What does that even mean?” May cocked her head with curiosity. She had never heard of such a thing before.
“I’m not sure how to explain it,” Em admitted with a shrug. “All I know is, I experience the world differently than you. There is energy everywhere – everything has it. I feel it very clearly and I can interact with it in the same way.”
“Well, aren’t you special,” May teased.
“I know, right?” Em grinned.
Without saying any more, she had brought her hands together until a blue flash of glowing light ignited between her palms. She let it expand before tossing it into the air. An unseen shockwave fired after it, forcing the orb to explode into a fireworks-esque display. May had watched in delight as the residual energy gradually dispersed back into the atmosphere like stars flickering out at daybreak.
And so went their days together. Any waking moment May wasn’t taking care of Omi or dancing, she spent with Em. May tried teaching Em to dance (Em, as it turned out, was woefully bereft of any sense of rhythm – a fact they both found incredibly entertaining) and Em taught May how to throw a punch (“The key is to use your shoulder,” she instructed, holding up a couch cushion for May to practice on. “That’s where the power comes from.”)
They cooked meals, swam in the ocean, and talked. For hours, well into the night, the two would talk about anything and everything. They were an odd pair, but each truly enjoyed the time they spent together.
The following Saturday, the day of May’s second cancelled family dinner, the two finished cleaning up from a late breakfast before settling onto the couch to watch a movie.
The day was overcast and gloomy; perfect for holing up indoors. At Em’s suggestion, May chose one of her favorite old black and white films where the actors both sang and danced. May hesitated; in the wake of Em’s personal revelation, she had become self-conscious of her more mundane interests.
But Em insisted.
“I’m sure they’re considered classics for a reason,” she concluded, filling a bowl full of berries leftover from their morning meal.
They sat close together on the couch. May tried not to burst with nervous excitement as they shared a blanket draped across both their laps.
A dramatic meltdown from the film’s leading lady made Em snort.
“Stop!” May laughed. Not for the first time, she nudged at Em playfully with her elbow.
“Oh, c’mon,” Em grinned, not looking away from the screen. “It’s meant to be funny! I’m supposed to laugh.”
May gave her an exasperated look, but couldn’t suppress her smile.
“Okay, give me another,” Em said after a moment.
May chose a plump berry from the bowl and flipped it skyward. Em skillfully caught the flung fruit in her mouth and went back to watching the movie as if nothing had happened, making May giggle.
Thoroughly satisfied with herself (she’d had May tossing her berries since the movie started) Em slumped comfortably deeper into the soft couch. Perhaps it was unintentional, but her shoulder settled gently into May’s.
A kaleidoscope of butterflies collided against the ceiling of May’s stomach. She tried her best not to react. What would happen if she relaxed back into the cushions too, just enough to bring them a little closer together? Would it be too obvious? She’d have to move slowly; make it look natural…
Just as she steeled the courage to make her move, Em sat up with a jolt.
“What is it?” May asked, flustered.
“Did you hear that?” Em cocked her head, straining to hear over the swelling movie soundtrack.
May reached for the remote and hit the mute button. The quiet revealed the sound of many pairs of feet stomping up the spiral staircase.
“Oh, no,” she gasped.
As if in reply, a deep voice boomed cheerfully from the other side of the door.
“Oh, Maayyyybe!” it called, loud despite being muffled by the door. “If you’re not going to have dinner with us, then we’re going to have lunch with you!”
The door swung open to reveal a large man, looking as upbeat as he sounded. His long, sea-swept hair was held back by a bandana and he carried a paper bag filled to bursting with groceries in the crook of one thick, bronzed arm.
His dark, shining eyes fell on May and Em. The smile slid from his face.
May leaped up, sending the bowl clattering to the floor, berries skittering in every direction.
“Kai!” A woman’s voice sounded from behind the stunned man in the doorway. “Don’t just stand there! Let us in!”
May groaned, dragging her hands through her hair in dismay. Em shifted a puzzled stare between the two as more people piled into the small entry.
Two women – one old, the other younger – were followed by a man carrying a young boy. The chattering group was brought up by a stout older man who shepherded them all inside.
“Don’t leave me out here,” he barked. “The rain is coming.”
One by one they fell silent at the sight of May and Em. For a moment the world stopped; no one said a word. Then, as if on cue, the clouds split open, dropping the first of many fat raindrops loudly onto the treehouse roof.
“Who -” the elder woman gasped, only to be cut off by a squeal from the little boy. He was the only person in the room who seemed happy to be there.
Taking advantage of his father’s slack-jawed surprise, the boy wriggled down to the floor and darted to May, wrapping her knees in a tight hug.
Sinking down to the the boy’s level, May forced an unsteady smile across her face, trying to shake off the mortification. “Hello, Omi.”
“Oh,” Em whispered, comprehension washing over her.
The younger of the two women rushed down from the doorway and snatched the boy back just as May stood with him in her arms.
“What is going on?” She hissed with wide-eyed fury.
“Everyone, this is Em,” she croaked.
Glancing back at Em over her shoulder, May smiled weakly. “Em, this is my family.”
“What in the world were you thinking?” May’s mother wagged an accusatory finger in her daughter’s face. Small but mighty, she was a matriarch not to be trifled with even on the best of days.
May winced, shrinking back from her mother’s rage. This was exactly what she had been worried about; the very reason she had kept Em a secret.
“She was sick, mama,” May lied. “She got lost while she was backpacking around the island and she needed help. What was I supposed to do?”
Ora, who had been leaning back against the counter with her arms crossed, scoffed loudly.
“Help her, sure. But did you need to let her live with you?” Ora stalked forward, stooping down so as to force her sister to look her in the eyes. “Do you have any idea what this looks like?”
May flushed a deep and violent crimson.
“That’s not what this is,” she shot back in a harsh whisper, desperate to lower the volume of the conversation. She glanced miserably toward the deck where Em sat alone in the hammock, exiled by May’s family so that they could all speak privately.
Yes, this was exactly what she had been hoping to avoid.
Her father sighed.
“Then what is it, May?” he asked.
Her heart clenched at the disappointment in his voice. She hated the look that strained his face whenever she let him down. She could only shrug in response lest her voice give away her facade of indifference.
“You have come so far, Maybe,” her mother said, stern but steady. “And we have been trying so hard to make things easier for you. But this?” – she gestured across the kitchen and toward the deck – “This isn’t going to help.”
May took a deep breath, trying to remain calm. She may have hated disappointing her family, but something about being interrogated like this struck a nerve. After four years of being on her best behaviour, she was tired of the constant scrutiny.
This isn’t fair, her mind burned furiously. I am not a bad person.
Stalling, May evaded the accusatory stares of her parents and sister by watching as her brother, Kai, edged closer to the sliding doors. In hushed tones, he started a conversation with Em, and she engaged him with a genuine smile.
“I’m not just going to turn away someone who needs help,” May huffed, crossing her arms.
Her mother’s eyes narrowed ominously.
“Well, she looks like she’s feeling better to me.”
“I don’t know,” commented May’s brother-in-law, Grey, as he hopped up the few short steps into the kitchen. Omi squirmed in his arms, on the verge of a tantrum. “She’s awfully pale, don’t you think? What’s wrong with her?”
“Kai!” their mother shouted, making everyone jump. “Time to go.”
May watched as her brother shot Em an apologetic look before moving toward the door, scooping up the bag of groceries as he went.
With little else said, May’s family left just as quickly as they arrived. She stood still and tightly drawn well after the door closed and the sound of Kai’s loud junker of a van dissipated down the beach. She was numb from the onslaught of emotion. Embarrassment, anger and defiance mixed, lingering somewhere just below the surface.
“May?” Em called gently, climbing the steps from the living room to the kitchen. “Is everything okay?”
May shook her head, rubbing her eyes hard.
“I’m so sorry,” she replied weakly. “I promise they’re good people. That was so…” She trailed off, unsure how to explain away her family’s behavior.
“It’s okay,” Em smiled, trying to lighten the mood with a playful swing at May’s arm. “I’m sure they’re just worried I’m an escaped convict or something.”
“No.” May couldn’t even bring herself to humor Em’s joke. “That’s not it. Besides, they treated me like a child and they didn’t even give you a chance.”
For a moment, neither spoke. Em bit her lip, watching nervously as May took a series of deep, calming breaths.
“Is there something I can do?” Em asked quietly.
May blinked as a thought crossed her mind. She didn’t have much to lose now. The damage was done and she found herself past the point of caring.
She looked to Em and smiled.
“Yes, actually. Do you want to come to my show tonight?”
Are you an artists interested in illustrating a chapter of “The Star and the Ocean”? Contact me about commission opportunities!