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 19 and 20. I highly encourage you to read from these new chapters instead!
Chapter Ten – This could work
May groaned as she rolled onto her side and smothered her pillow over her face.
“Is this what death feels like?” she muttered miserably. “Because I think I’m dead.”
“I have it on very good authority this is not what death feels like,” came a groggy voice from beside her. “You’re just very hungover.”
Startled, May scrambled up to sit. She hadn’t expected anyone to reply.
A sharp pain struck between her eyes and she groaned again. Squinting, she saw Em stretched out beside her, an arm draped over her eyes.
“You’ll want to drink that,” Em grumbled, pointing passed May with her free hand.
A full glass of water sat waiting on the bedside table. May picked it up gingerly.
“Thank you,” she mumbled, taking a small sip. Em grunted in reply.
As she slowly rehydrated herself, May’s memories from the night before came creeping back.
She looked down at Em.
“Nothing else happened,” Em cut her off, anticipating her question. “I helped you up to your room, you asked me to stay, and we both passed out.”
“Oh.” May blushed, relieved.
It didn’t take long for that relief to be replaced by a flood of embarrassment.
‘Em,” she spoke quietly. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Em rolled onto her side to face May. “You’re allowed to change your mind. I’m the one who should apologizing.”
May blinked in surprise. “For what?”
“For making you uncomfortable.” Em buried her face into the pillow without looking up.
May sighed. It was just her luck the first time she had been allowed to say no was with someone she actually wanted to say yes to.
“It’s not that I didn’t want… I just panicked a little, I-”
“May.” Em put her hand over May’s free one and peered up at her. “It’s okay. You don’t need explain.”
May swallowed hard. “Yes, I do. I don’t want you to think that I don’t like…” She trailed off, too nervous to finish her thought.
“It’s fine.” Em smiled, closing her eyes again. “I like you too, you fucking nerd.”
May hadn’t expected such candor. She laughed even though it made her head throb. “I was worried it might have just been the alcohol. I wasn’t sure if you… You know.”
“Liked girls?” Em filled in the blank yet again. “Surprise.”
May gave another weak laugh. Placing the glass gently on the table, she squirmed back beneath the covers. With her head on her pillow, she watched Em until she opened her eyes again.
“So,” May hesitated, feeling her cheeks burn. “Does this mean I can keep kissing you?”
“That depends,” she replied, smirking into her pillow. “Am I allowed to call you Maybe yet? If we’re kissing each other, I think I should at least get to call you by your nickname.”
May couldn’t suppress her grin. “Fine, I guess so.”
Em closed her eyes again. “It’s a deal then.”
Hand in hand, the pair drifted back to sleep until an unfamiliar sound startled May into wakefulness. She propped herself up on an elbow and listened.
“Em,” she gave the other a shake as the sound went off again. “Em, do you hear that?”
Frowning, Em groaned and turned her face deeper into her pillow.
Again, May heard the unfamiliar ringing. It seemed to be coming from down in the living room.
This time Em shot up, fully awake.
“Shit, that’s my phone!”
Without another word she hovered out of bed and, completely airborne, maneuvered out the bedroom door. It all happened so quickly the air she left swirling in her wake tugged the bedding straight to the floor. May sat up, watching the whole thing in surprise.
Em’s voice rose up excitedly. She was talking to someone but May couldn’t make out the words. Curious, she hauled herself out of bed and weakly made her way down to the living room.
“Sorry, bud,” Em laughed into a small mobile phone. “It died ages ago and I only just got around to charging it.”
She paused to listen to the reply on the other end as May made her way into the room. Even from where she stood, May could hear a man’s loud voice booming from the ear piece.
Em laughed again. “Actually, I’m on an island!” Another pause. “Well, it’s kind of a long story.”
Glancing to the side, she caught sight of May and beamed excitedly. “Hang on. Can we video chat? There’s someone I want you to meet.”
May felt what little color was left in her face drain away. She felt like garbage and imagined she probably didn’t look much better.
Before she could protest, Em initiated the video. She held the phone up while the feed connected.
Flustered, May made an attempt to pat down her hair and shot Em a dirty look.
“Sorry,” Em whispered. “I plugged this in days ago and completely forgot about it. I don’t get many calls, clearly.”
A new sound announced the connection had been established and a man’s smiling face flashed onto the screen. He probably wasn’t much older than May or Em, but his scruffy beard made him look like he was. A mop of messy brown hair flopped into a pair of friendly hazel eyes.
“Holy shit, Emmy!” He laughed loudly. “You ladies look rough.” He made a point to look directly at May. “No offense.”
Embarrassed, May muttered something about it being okay while Em grinned.
“We are both extraordinarily hungover.”
“Nice,” he nodded, a proud look on his face. “A sure sign of a good night. So, are you gonna introduce me or what?”
Em looked at May and nodded to the screen, “May, this is Dom. Dominic, meet May. She’s been letting me crash with her.”
“Oh!” May exclaimed, recognizing the name. “Em’s told me about you. You two worked together on the Tenna search and rescue team.”
In the many hours the two had spent talking, Em had told May all about Dominic and the rest of the Tenna SAR team. Dom, as he was known to friends, had been the one to recruit Em after he found her in the woods during one of his camping trips.
“I was very, very lost,” Em had explained.
An expert orienteer with an especially optimistic outlook on life, he had seen Em’s unique abilities as an asset to the team.
When May asked how much the team knew about her, Em had been fairly nonchalant in her reply.
“They know what I can do, but not what I am. You need to understand, there are a lot of different sorts on the mainland and, being the only spit of civilization along the only safe route through the mountains in that region, Tenna sees a lot of them pass through. I told them I’d be willing to help if they didn’t ask too many questions. It took a bit of convincing, but the team eventually agreed. It worked out well for all of us in the end.”
May had a difficult time imagining what “different sorts” inhabited the mainland for an energy-manipulating flying woman to seem plausible. The rumors and stories Hoku locals whispered about the mainland being a dangerous place were starting to make more sense.
Dangerous or not, Dom was the definition of friendly. As they bantered, he filled the girls in on the team since Em left: Trina, the youngest in the crew, was moody and briefly threatened to leave too.
“She’s all talk,” Dom assured them when Em balked at the news. “She loves us too much to leave.”
Matti, the team’s soft-spoken mechanic, was still asking Dom if he thought Em would ever come back.
“Aw, Matti,” Em smiled with genuine glee. “What a sweetheart. I haven’t been gone long enough for him to miss me that much.”
Dom shook his head. “It’s been at least a couple of months now. Feels like longer.”
“Someone needs to do a better job of managing that poor bastard’s expectations” Em said, her smile fading just a bit. “I’m not supposed to be coming back at all.”
“Aw, c’mon, Emmy,” Dom whined. “You can’t expect me to believe you didn’t even plan on visiting. I get you had to leave to figure your shit out and all but it’s not like you can’t swing back through every once and awhile.”
May watched the exchange with a rising sense of dread. She liked Dom, but she resented him for trying to plant any idea that would involve Em leaving. It was petty and selfish, but she and Em had just made some pretty important progress.
A peculiar look swept across Em’s face and she smiled widely.
“You know, I just had an idea.” She draped an arm over May’s shoulder, pulling her closer so she was fully on the screen. “This one has has never been off the island. Can you believe that?”
May blushed again. As she opened her mouth to defend herself, Dom’s eyes went wide.
“Oh, shit! Well, I think we know what needs to happen now! Hang on.”
The camera became a smear of walking feet and hallway floors as Dom hurried somewhere within the SAR team’s headquarters. The girls heard him apologize to the team’s paramedic, Karin as he pushed past her into a briefing room.
“Okay,” he said, righting the camera. “What did you say the island was called?”
“We didn’t,” May replied, curious as to where this conversation was headed. “It’s called Hoku.”
Dom was silent for a moment as he searched a massive map of the world that was pinned across one of the walls.
“They use it to keep track of where people come from,” Em explained to May while they waited.
“Aha!” Dom’s eyes lit up as he jabbed at a small cluster of islands in the middle of the ocean. “In the Lewa archipelago?”
“Yeah,” May was surprised to hear him talking about her part of the world with such familiarity. Forgetting that she was looking through a screen, she tilted her head in an attempt to see the map better.
“This could work, you know,” Dom continued, tapping his chin. “If you two could get yourselves to Mondova, I could probably come and pick you up.”
“Right, just pick us up. Way to make my month of backpacking through the mountains look like a day trip.” Em turned to May. “Mondova is the city on the coast I was trying to reach.”
“I’d like to know how you managed to skip Mondova and go straight to an island, by the way,” Dom cut in.
“All that way? I’m calling bullshit.”
“Wait,” May jumped in, trying to prevent the two from going off on a tangent. “Are you guys serious about this?”
“Sure, why not?” Dom couldn’t hide his excitement if he tried, and he certainly wasn’t trying now. “We get to see Emmy again, you get to see the world. It’s win-win, right?”
May hesitated. She thought about all of the stories she made up for Omi about great adventures and far off places. She had always been curious about what else was out there. The idea of finding out thrilled her. At the same time she wasn’t sure if she was brave enough to actually leave. And what would her family say? How would people react if they knew she left the safety of Omea? It was rare enough that anyone travelled to another island, let alone out of the archipelago entirely.
Em must have seen the concern on May’s face. She gave her shoulder a light squeeze and smiled reassuringly.
“We don’t have to decide right now,” she said gently. “Give us a bit of time to think about it, okay, Dom?”
Dom huffed dramatically but the look on his face said he understood. “Okay, but I am totally telling Matti you already said yes.”
“You’re a dick,” Em glowered. May laughed.
“It’s true,” Dom grinned. “But you know you love me.”
May smiled, relieved to not be on the spot anymore. As Em and Dom wrapped up their conversation, May looked out the deck windows and across the ocean.
It wouldn’t be forever, she reasoned. Just a quick vacation, really.
She stole a glance and Em, shining and smiling happily. The idea of an adventure with her didn’t sound that scary at all.
Maybe, May thought, she was braver than she gave herself credit for.
Special shout-out to my guest artist, Kayden (aka marcato-meumew on Tumblr aka TSATO’s biggest fan) who did the illustration for this chapter! It was very special to have someone who cares so much about this story contribute their artwork to it!
If you’re an artist who’s interested in doing an illustration for a future chapter of The Star and the Ocean, please contact me about commission opportunities!