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 26. I highly encourage you to read from this new chapter instead!
Chapter Thirteen – Do you feel safe here?
You want the same thing…
The words repeated like a chant, swirling and rearranging until they wove together like a veil between sleep and wakefulness. Beyond the veil was a light that grew stronger with each passing beat of a pounding rhythm.
Bang, bang, bang.
You want the same thing you want the same thing…
Bang, bang, BANG.
May sat up with a jolt.
The slamming rhythm was not, as it turned out, some disembodied beat keeping time in a dream. Someone was knocking on the door. May peered around with sleepy eyes; she was still on the couch, under a blanket she didn’t remember retrieving, and she was very much alone. Giving her head a shake, she stood slowly and made her way to the door.
“I was starting to think you weren’t here!” smiled one of Omea’s only two mail carriers. May pretended she didn’t notice the way his eyes scanned the inside of her home.
He’s checking to see if I’m alone, she realized, her heart sinking. The local rumour mill was clearly still alive and well.
Since moving to the treehouse, May had never once received mail. The only reason she recognized the face in front of her was because of the time she spent at Ora’s house taking care of her nephew. She wasn’t sure she liked him very much.
“It would have been disappointing if I had come all this way for nothing.”
Whatever, I’m sure you’re wishing you had just left this with my sister now that you don’t have any gossip to bring back with you, May thought coldly.
The carrier handed May a single envelope and left with a wave. May said a word of thanks before retreating back inside to inspect her mail.
To Miss May Alana
At the Treehouse on the Beach
Ripping the seal on the envelope, May slid out an invitation to the end-of-show gala Mr. Anoki, owner and director of the Omea Theatre Company, always threw for everyone who had participated in his productions. In truth, these weren’t galas in the traditional sense so much as they were dinner parties held at his gorgeous home, but the word made everyone feel important and the parties were always a high-end affair.
May half-read the card, her mind distracted by the memory of the last time she had been invited to one of Anoki’s galas. Her life had been so different back then.
Memories flashed through her mind like a film in fast-forward. In an instant she relived every horrible moment and lonely night until at last the reel landed on Em and paused.
Glancing around the empty room, May sighed. There was never going to be a good time to tell Em the truth, but she was as ready as she’d ever be.
May had no idea where Em disappeared to, but she was fairly confident she would have stayed away from town. With this in mind, she followed the shoreline west to where the beach grew rocky and rose from the sea in a wall of cliffs. May scaled the craggy surface carefully.
She found Em sulking at the top. With arms wrapped tightly around her knees, her bloodshot eyes were fixed darkly on the horizon. The wind blew noisily up here, and Em didn’t hear May approaching until she was almost at her side.
“Do you mind if I join you?” May asked gently. She tucked her hair behind her ears to keep it out of her face and smiled in the way that secretly made Em feel weak. All brooding aside, she knew she couldn’t turn May away, so she relaxed and scooted over to make room instead.
For a few moments, the pair sat side by side and stared out at the ocean in silence. May didn’t want to push. She would wait until Em was ready.
It took a while, but at last Em sighed and, keeping her eyes averted, she spoke.
“I’m really sorry.”
“I don’t know.” Em shrugged in defeat. “For everything, I guess.”
“I don’t think you have anything to apologize for,” May replied. It was true, even though she had briefly wrestled with feelings of betrayal the night before. “I’m sure he meant well, but Welkin shouldn’t have done that.”
Em gave a smile smile.
“They,” she said.
Confused, May cocked her head in reply.
“Welkin goes by they, not him,” Em explained, her tone gentle. “They’re a Star, and believe me when I tell you the Stars have no use for the imaginary human concept of gender.”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” May replied with a wince. She wasn’t quite sure what Em meant, but she also didn’t want to be rude. “I’ve never thought of things that way before. I guess that’s why you don’t like calling… them?” Em nodded encouragingly. “Why you don’t call them ‘dad’, huh?”
“Among other reasons,” Em smirked. “Anyway, they’re pretty good at meddling in the name of good intentions. I swear I was going to tell you I just… Wasn’t ready.” She paused to take a few deep breaths. “I’m sure you have a lot of questions.”
May considered this for a moment. She did have a lot of questions: What does it feel like to die? How did it happen? What were you trying to do on the beach and what happens now?
But she would be patient.
“I do,” she said softly, tucking an escaped curl back behind her ear. “But most of them can wait until you’re ready.”
Em instantly relaxed at her words.
“Thank you.” Her voice cracked. “I really appreciate that.”
May nodded, but her look grew serious. “I do need to know though… Are you okay?”
Em laughed and rubbed her eyes. “I’m mortified, but I’m sure I’ll get over it.”
May frowned. “Are you in some kind of trouble?” The question reminded her of her parents. In her mind she saw their faces looking back at her with concern.
“No.” Em shook her head. “Not anymore. Now I’m just supposed to stay out of it, really. These days I’m trying to find a safe place.”
Biting her lip, May rolled this and all of its implications around in her mind. She reached out and gently laid a hand over Em’s.
“Do you feel safe here?” she asked. “With me?”
Their eyes locked and for a moment they searched each other quietly. Then Em smiled, moving her hand so she could link her fingers with May’s.
“With you? Absolutely.”
Relief flowed through May like the tide washing against the cliffs below. She leaned in and kissed Em deeply, a gesture her partner accepted eagerly.
“I feel safe with you too,” May said after she pulled away. “Which is why I have something I want to tell you.”
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!