AUTHOR’S NOTE: The Star and the Ocean underwent structural revisions in September 2016. This particular chapter can now be found as the new chapter 18. I highly encourage you to read from the new chapter instead!
Chapter Nine – Pleasantly surprised
May fidgeted with the hems of her sleeves. Casting anxious glances, she tried to avoid making eye contact with anyone as she took in the crowd.
It had been years since she had gone to one of the theater’s after-parties on the beach. She wondered what people would say when they saw her there, with Em in tow no less.
When the two arrived on the beach, Lenaia – ever the hostess – got them both started with a beverage from a shanty-style beach bar before disappearing into the crowd to socialize.
May had been right about one thing: her peers were far more interested in Em than they were apprehensive.
The pair settled next to one of the bonfires dotting the shoreline. While people gave May plenty of space, curious strangers chatted with Em, who affably answered the same questions about where she was from and why she was in Omaea again and again.
May was relieved no one asked Em about her – why they were there together or how the two knew one another – even if it was clear they were whispering about it among themselves. They would rather indulge in the novelty of Em without letting the shadow of May’s involvement obscure the shiny newness of this mainland stanger.
The people of Omaea may have found themselves at a point where they tolerated May’s presence, but they clearly weren’t ready to forget.
For her part, Em was either enjoying being the centre of attention or aware enough not to bring May up on her own.
Em had learned certain subjects were off-limits with May. Who were her friends? Why did she live alone so far from town? Each time Em ventured to ask, May shot the conversation down.
“It’s complicated,” she had responded when Em asked why May’s family had been so upset that morning. She had winced in such a way that told Em it was better not to push. May had been very gracious with her hospitality – Em figured the least she could do in return was respect her privacy.
A band from the theatre began playing and, between flaming torches and colourful paper lanterns, people danced. As May finished off her drink, Em stood.
“C’mon,” she said, reaching a hand down to May. “Let’s have some fun.”
Thrilled as she was at the prospect of dancing with Em, May kept a respectful distance. She felt people watching them and didn’t want to give more ammunition for gossip than they had just by being there.
Still, she couldn’t pretend she wasn’t having a good time
A second round of drinks later found May laughing loudly at Em, who was enjoying herself rather enthusiastically, dancing to every song the band played.
“Where were these moves when I was trying to teach you to dance?” May shouted over the music.
“You’re giving me way too much credit,” Em grinned, swinging her hips with exaggerated gusto. “I’m just twitching to the beat!”
The rest of the party unfolded in much the same way. They drank and they danced, drifting closer and closer as the night wore on. They laughed with people as if there was absolutely nothing uncomfortable about them being there, until finally it came time to wave goodbye and begin the long stagger back to the treehouse.
At some point along the beach, well away from the lights and sounds of the party, May sang a purposefully exaggerated rendition of a song someone had sang on stage. Em doubled over in laughter.
“Stop!” She wheezed, clutching at her sides, “I have to pee and if you make me wet myself I swear I’ll throw you in the water!”
May howled, drawing in deep, gasping breaths. “You wouldn’t dare,” she replied, wiping tears from the corners of her eyes. She casually linked arms with Em, half because her inhibitions were low and half because she was a little wobbly on her feet.
“Don’t tempt me, woman.”
May shoved her shoulder into Em with just enough force to make them both teeter slightly.
“That’s it,” Em cried, ducking down to heave May, startled but cackling, over her shoulder with surprising, otherworldly strength. “In you go!”
“Em!” May shrieked, trying to squirm her way to freedom. “Em, NO! Don’t you dare!”
After letting her struggle for a moment longer, Em set May down on the edge of the surf. May, wasting no time while Em’s guard was down, lunged back after her. They wrestled, trying to shove each other into the water until they wore themselves out.
May and Em fell into each other, giggling and breathless, their limbs still locked defensively. The night was warm and it made the heat in their closeness smolder. Their eyes met. The moment seemed to hang.
Half drunk and dizzy at the proximity between them, May saw her chance. Casting caution and fear of consequence aside, she took it.
Pressing her body tightly against Em’s, May leaned in and kissed her – hard. She felt greedy and selfish, savouring the heat trapped between them, knowing she only had one shot at this.
Em pulled back with a small gasp. May fumbled after her, confidence washing away with the tide.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized. The weight of what she had done had an instantly sobering effect. “I just-”
Em gazed back with such an indecipherable look, May lost track of what she was saying.
In a swift and wordless motion, Em took May by the waist, pulling her in roughly and kissing her back. It started slow and deep but May, elated, moved into it. Again and again their lips met, each kiss growing with desperation.
They consumed each other feverishly. Em pressed a firm hand into the small of May’s back, pinning the small body against her own while May clutched and pulled at whatever part of Em she could get her hands on.
At last they broke away, panting and tangled tightly in each other’s arms. For a moment they simply took each other in, lips hovering as close as they could without touching.
“This isn’t how I thought you’d react,” May admitted in a breathless whisper.
Em searched May’s face questioningly. “Are you disappointed?”
“No. Just surprised.” May smiled, bringing her face in close so her lips grazed Em’s cheek while she spoke. “Pleasantly surprised.”
Minutes later the pair crashed into the treehouse. May hardly had a chance to work the lock before Em was upon her, pushing her through the door and kicking it closed behind them.
They kissed each other fiercely. May draped her arms around Em’s neck, hands tangling in the long, silvery strands. Em steered her toward the couch and pushed her onto her back before crawling to kneel between her legs.
All May could hear was the sound of her own heart thundering in her ears.
This was actually happening.
A coy grin crept across Em’s face as she grasped May’s hips and dragged her closer. May gasped, Em’s boldness taking her by surprise.
Hungrily, Em kissed her way down May’s neck, tasting the soft skin of her throat as she went. She roamed a hand freely down the side of May’s body, her fingers teasing a trail along the hem of her shirt.
Caught up in the spark she felt when her hands touched May, in the excitement of what they were doing, Em didn’t notice they were no longer in sync. Somewhere in the moment, May stopped moving.
“May,” Em whispered between kisses. “May, is this okay?”
When May didn’t reply, Em stopped, looking up in alarm.
Even in the moonlight, Em could see the glassy sheen of tears in May’s eyes, the quiver of her lip. The magic of the moment vanished like a dream at sunrise. May let out a soft sob.
“I’m sorry,” she wept, face ashen with distress. “I can’t.”
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