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 21 and 22. I highly encourage you to read from these new chapters instead!
Chapter Eleven – It would seem we have much to discuss
May woke up to darkness. Groping blindly around the bed, she wasn’t surprised when she came up empty handed. It had only been a handful of nights since she started sharing her bed with Em, but already the feeling of being alone was enough to rouse her from a deep sleep.
This wasn’t the first time she had awoken unexpectedly to find the space beside her empty. When it happened a couple of nights ago, she had made her way gingerly through the night and out onto the deck where she found Em hovering peacefully, staring up at the night’s sky.
Em had apologized for waking her.
“I know you can’t feel it,” she said. “But the Stars are sending out such good vibes tonight. It’s like the feeling you get when you listen to your favorite song.”
That night, when Em had extended her hand, May swallowed her fear of heights and took it. With her arms wrapped tightly around Em’s shoulders, May experienced the closest thing to weightlessness. Suspended between the ocean and the stars, with the gentle swirling of displaced air rustling around her, she imagined she was without a body – just a mind, completely at peace and seamlessly a part of the universe around her.
Remembering how it felt – and how romantic it had been to share a long, slow kiss with Em while they drifted untethered in the night air – May smiled and slid out of bed. Perhaps tonight would bring more of the same.
The night was still and calm. An oppressive heat pressed down, signalling the arrival of summer on the island. May stepped through the sliding doors and out onto the deck, hoping for even a hint of a cool breeze rolling in off the ocean.
If Em was outside, she wasn’t hovering like last time. The only light on the beach came from the stars and the moon in its last quarter. It wasn’t much to go on, but as May scanned the shoreline, she caught Em’s silhouette framed in the meager light down by the water.
She must have been too warm, May thought, watching Em in silence.
The last thing May wanted to do was disturb the moment. Smiling, she was struck by how content she was, sharing both this moment and her days with someone she found so enchanting. For the first time in years, she felt lucky.
Out on the shore, Em stood very still. Arms at her sides, she stared out across the ocean as the surf broke at her bare feet.
May had just made up her mind to head down and join her when Em moved, slow at first, shoulders rising and falling in deep breaths. She took one step forward into the water, then another. May noticed how unsteady she looked. Before May could call out, Em scrambled forward, pitching herself wildly into the ocean.
“Em? What are you doing?” May yelled, taken aback by the violence in Em’s motion. She didn’t look like someone out for a casual midnight swim. May fumbled her way down the stairs and across the sand, continuing to call out to Em.
May heard Em crying out over the sound of the waves as they crashed over her. The words were unclear but her voice was heavy with anguish.
May’s heart dropped – she didn’t know what was happening but she knew what it looked like.
“Em!” May screamed desperately, hoping to snap Em out of whatever delirious spell dragged her out into the waves. “What are you doing? Come back!”
Em wasn’t even trying to stay afloat as the water beat down over her. Without pausing, May threw herself in, swimming against the tide. Tiny as she was, island life made a good swimmer out of May. She reached Em in a matter of moments.
As May tried to wrap her arm around a flailing and floundering Em, the frantic woman kicked and reached forward, trying to drag herself below the surface. It took some struggle, but at last May had a decent grip and, in a surge of adrenaline-induced strength, she hauled Em back to shore and onto the sand.
“What are you doing?” May shouted, throwing herself on top of Em to keep her pinned. Breathless and exhausted as they both were, Em still put up a fight, mindlessly thrashing and sobbing unintelligibly. “Please, just stop and talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong!”
The sky filled with a bright moving light. May ducked low over Em as a shrill whistling shot past them, erupting in a blinding flash on the sand.
“No,” Em groaned, her first coherent words since the ordeal had begun. “Not now. Go away! Leave me alone!”
Startled and confused, May crouched protectively over Em, watching breathlessly as the light swirled and manifested itself in a human-like figure. The brightness receded inward leaving behind the form of a person draped in a traveling cloak, glowing dimly with residual light.
May didn’t need to ask. She knew who it was.
Without a word, the figure stepped forward, reaching out a thin-fingered hand to gently ease May back. So resigned was she to her own futile efforts, May wasn’t surprised when she felt herself lifted upward, as if she had been picked up around her middle, and placed softly one pace to her right.
The figure knelt next to Em and, despite her growling protests, placed their hand along her cheek.
“That’s enough.” They spoke in a lilting voice. “It’s time to rest.” With an almost imperceptible transfer of light from their palm to her face, Em’s eyes rolled back in sleep.
Only the rolling of the ocean filled the space between May and the figure. She was afraid to draw attention to herself. May watched the figure gaze sadly down at Em, fingers twitching just above her face and hair as if they couldn’t quite will themself to touch her again.
“You were doing so well,” they muttered.
A pair of heavy-lidded golden eyes slid up to meet May’s. Her breath caught in her throat.
“Do you know who I am?” the figure asked quietly in a melodic voice that made May shiver.
“I think so,” she replied, a tremble in her words. “But I don’t know what to call you.”
The figure considered this for a moment before nodding slowly. “Your human tongue can’t pronounce my true name, but Astrid called me Welkin. It’s withstood the years. You may call me the same.”
May cocked her head, “Who is Astrid?”
Welkin looked back down at Em, their brow furrowing ever so slightly.
“Her birth mother.”
May’s assumption had been correct. Welkin: the Star who had fallen for a human. The Star who had helped bring Em into the world.
She glanced from Em to the Star and back again, concern replacing awe. “Is she going to be okay?”
“She will be,” they replied, fingers tracing lightly through Em’s wet hair and pushing a few stray tresses from her face. “Do not worry; this will pass. She has been steadier since you came along.”
May’s eyes narrowed skeptically; she had no idea what Welkin was talking about. Crawling closer, she took Em’s hand up in hers and held it tightly. She couldn’t begin to compare her feelings for Em to the parental bond Welkin had claim to, but she also wasn’t about to accept the Star’s vague half-answers.
“What do you mean?” she asked as firmly as she could muster.
Welkin tugged the cloak away from their face, revealing gently swooping lines and sharp angles. A long narrow face was home to soulful eyes, with a thin pointed nose and a mouth pulled into a tight crease. A pair of dark markings etched from their eyes and down their face. Every one of their features were tinged with gold. Androgynous and beautiful, Welkin left May momentarily dazzled.
“She may not be the same person she used to be, but the memories are still there, simmering below the surface,” Welkin explained matter-of-factly. “Sometimes they stir, although it happens less the more she settles into this new life. I only wish it weren’t so upsetting to her. We’re learning as we go. Giving the dead a second chance at life is hardly a perfect science.”
Blood thundered through May’s ears. She felt like she was about to fall, dizzy with dread.
“I don’t understand,” she whispered in a panic.
Welkin’s gaze filled with uncertainty.
“What has she told you?”
May searched her memories frantically, trying to remember anything Em might have told her that lined up with the confusing things Welkin said.
“She said you were friends with her mother,” May replied, speaking fast. “Her mother was sick and wished for a baby and you helped her. She told me she’s half Star and that’s why she can do the things she does. She says she…”
There was something sympathetic in Welkin’s eyes that made her trail off. May realized then they hadn’t been dismissive with her – May was simply in the dark.
“Ah, so she hasn’t told you everything afterall,” The Star’s voice was hushed, their gaze downcast. “Well, come along then. It would seem we have much to discuss.”
May sat, rooted and numb as Welkin gathered Em’s body into their arms, standing effortlessly to make their way back to the tree house. She watched them leave – almost considered staying right where she was – until an involuntary shudder shook her back to mindfulness.
Weakly, May dragged herself to her feet and followed the Star as they carried the woman she thought she knew back into the house.
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