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 31 and 32. I highly encourage you to read from these new chapters instead!
Chapter Sixteen – Try to understand
“I can picture it.” Em’s eyes were closed and she was sitting cross-legged on the deck. “You surrounded by all these little kids in leotards. It’s fucking adorable.”
From behind her, May giggled. Legs hanging over the edge of the hammock, she played with Em’s long hair while the two of them enjoyed the morning sunshine.
“I think it would be fun,” May said, deftly twisting the strands into an elaborate braid. “I love kids and I love to dance. Teaching seems like the best of both worlds. But who knows. There’s a lot I’d like to try.”
Em tilted her head back to look up at May. “Do you-”
“Don’t move your head.”
“Sorry.” She dropped it back again. “Do you want kids? Like, in life?”
May leaned down and grinned in Em’s peripheral vision. “Don’t you think it’s a bit premature to be talking about kids? Pass me the elastic.”
“That’s not what I meant!” Em forced a laughed, doing as she was told. She was prepared to joke her way out of the awkward corner she had backed herself into when a sound in the distance caught her attention. “Do you hear that?”
“No.” May looked down the beach. She waited in silence, knowing Em’s hearing was far better than hers. If there was indeed something out there, she would be able to hear it herself soon enough.
Within moments, the rumble of a struggling engine gradually filled the air. May caught sight of a van making its way down the beach like a shimmering mirage in the heat. She squinted through the sunlight.
“Really?” Em sat up and followed May’s line of sight. “Shit. Should I hide or something?”
May shook her head. “He knows you’re still here. The rest of the family isn’t thrilled but Kai’s pretty laid back.”
Through everything that happened over the years, May’s family had stuck by her. Yes, her parents had been everything from mortified to furious at the height of the scandal, but blood or otherwise, they cared about their children unconditionally. Ora hadn’t spoken to May for months after the truth about her and Mila had come out, but even she had come back around in time, although May nursed the wound of knowing their relationship hadn’t been the same since.
But Kai had always been gentle with her. The pair of them were less than a year apart in age, and had grown up as one another’s closest allies. He believed every word May had told him about what happened – a fact not even their parents could lay claim to. He believed to the point that he had taken matters into his own hands, confronting Kane one evening shortly after the photo had gone public. The confrontation hadn’t ended well for either of them, but May had been touched by his valor nonetheless.
Devotion to her sister aside, Kai was also a good son. He had never been one to defy their parents, a fact May kept in mind as she watched his van roll up and come to park at the base of the tree.
“Yo, Maybe!” Kai called from the sand. “Can I come up?”
“Door’s open!” May shouted back.
Em watched quietly as Kai stepped through the door and called out a hello. Physically he was May’s opposite in virtually every way; tall, broad and dark to her slight and pale. He wore his wavy dark hair to his shoulders, framing his round face and carefree smile like a halo. Just like the first time they met, Em watched that smile falter when he caught sight of her at his sister’s side.
“Oh,” he said, trying to regain his composure. “Hey. How’s it?”
“Pretty great, dude.” Em smiled as warmly as she could. “Good to see you again.”
It was in a quick glance to May for reassurance that Em caught sight of something that made her stomach drop. How either of them managed to forget the fresh bruise blossoming across the side of May’s neck, she did not know. What she did know was that there was no way Kai wasn’t going to see it.
As was typical of most couples in the early stages of newfound intimacy, not a day had passed since that night in the woods where Em and May hadn’t found an opportunity to be close. It took virtually nothing – a sassy comment, a suggestive glance – for them to throw themselves into one another. The bed, the couch, the hammock – it didn’t matter where they were; clothes would vanish and the pair would lose themselves to pleasure. They had grown confident, trusting each other in a way that left May more than happy to explore somewhat new things including rougher, more intense ways of being passionate with Em.
The bruise on her neck was the incriminating evidence of what had been a night of just such exploration. Other parts of May’s body were littered with similar marks left by both kisses and teeth. They had been laughing about it only hours earlier. Now, Em was kicking herself for not thinking of it before Kai walked in.
Unluckily for both of them, the wide-eyed look of terror on Em’s face got Kai’s attention immediately. His eyes looked to where she did, his face twisting the instant he noticed the mark.
May, however, did not pick up on what was going on between Em and her brother right away. She frowned in confusion.
“What are you look-” Her hand touched her neck. “Oh, no.”
Kai’s head snapped to Em, his face transformed by rage.
“What the fuck did you do to my sister?” he bellowed, making both of them jump.
“Shit!” Em scrambled to her feet just as Kai lunged in her direction.
“Kai, NO!” May cried, leaping up from the hammock just in time to plant herself between her brother and Em.
Kai took her by the shoulders, concern etched across his brow. “Did she hurt you, May?”
“You can tell me,” he pressed, shooting a murderous look at Em over May’s shoulder. “How did you get that bruise?”
The idea of giving her brother an honest answer to that question made May feel sick to her stomach, but she knew he wasn’t the type to back down. “For goodness sake, Kai! It’s a hickie, alright?”
A heavy air of awkwardness settled between the trio. Kai’s face fell as he looked between his sister and Em and back again.
“A…” Slowly he released his hold on May’s shoulders. “Oh, for fucks sake! Are you serious, May? You told mama and papa that’s not what this was about!” He kept his eyes firmly locked on his sister as he gestured wildly at Em.
May looked deflated. “Well, it wasn’t then. But…” She turned to look helplessly at Em, who stepped forward and wordlessly took her hand.
Kai groaned and buried his face in his massive palms. “Maybe, you know I love you and if this…” He raised his face to give a pointed look at Em, who was starting to squirm at being spoken about as if she couldn’t understand what was being said, “If this is who you are, then fine. But is this really the right time? Things were just starting to turn around for you.”
“When is it ever going to be the ‘right time’, Kai?” May asked sharply, her eyes narrowing. “What am I supposed to do? Just wait for everyone to change their minds about me? Is that what needs to happen before I’m allowed to be happy?”
“That’s not what I meant,” Kai grumbled. “What about the rest of the family? You’re not the only one who had to deal with what happened.”
May let out a strangled, incredulous noise, but it was Em who cut in.
“Okay, I’m going to stop you right there.”
“No, you’re not.” Kai stared her down. “This is between family.”
“Right,” she barreled onward, emboldened. “This is you implying that a member of your family – someone I think you care very much about, I might add – should hide who she is and deny herself a chance at being happy just so other people don’t have to feel uncomfortable.”
“It’s not that simple,” he huffed, heat rising behind the rich bronze of his cheeks.
“I’m sure in a lot of ways it isn’t.” She wrapped an arm protectively around May’s shoulder. “But at the same time, it is.”
Kai crossed his arms and eyed the two of them quietly for a moment. He mulled over what Em had said thoughtfully, carefully considering his next move. But May gave a small, hopeful smile and Kai knew it didn’t matter how much he wanted to act stern with her – he wanted to see her happy.
“Please, Kai,” she said softly. “Try to understand.”
“Oh, I doubt I’ll ever really understand,” Kai rubbed his chin absentmindedly. “But if you say you’re happy then you know I’m going to have your back.”
May beamed and opened her mouth to speak, but before she could, Kai continued. “Are you sure you’re ready for how people are going to react, though?”
“Ready?” May replied. “Kai, it’s not like people stopped believing it in the first place. If anything it would just confirm what they’re all still whispering about. Pretending to be something I’m not hasn’t done much to sway public opinion, has it?”
Sighing, Kai didn’t bother to reply. She was right and they both knew it. Instead, he looked to Em.
“And you,” he growled, pointing at her for emphasis. “I don’t care if you’re a chick. If you fuck with my sister I will hunt you down.”
Em frowned and calmly pushed his finger out of her face. “You can ease up on the protective brother bit. I’m not here to mess with May. Of course, if you were implying something else then I-”
“Okay!” May stepped in. “That’s enough, you two. Emmy, please don’t push our luck. And, Kai… Are we good?”
Kai groaned again, dropping into the old folding chair in defeat. “Sure, May. We’re good. Although you’re totally going to have to cover that thing up when you look after Omi tomorrow. Ora would lose her damn mind if she saw it and you know she’ll tell mama.”
May flushed and covered the bruise with her hand as if it would somehow help.
Em eased into the hammock, rocking on her heels and staring off into nothing. For a moment no one spoke. The silence made May antsy.
“So,” she ventured. “Did you just come out to visit or did you need something?”
“Oh, right.” Kai smiled at last, running a hand through his unkempt hair. “The Rocket’s been running a little funny lately. I was hoping you could take a look at it with me. I feel like there’s something I’m not seeing.”
Em raised an eyebrow. “The Rocket?”
“His van,” May explained.
Em did a visible double-take. “You know how to fix engines and stuff?”
“Sister, she knows how to do everything,” Kai grinned at the dumbfounded look on Em’s face.Turning his attention back to May, he added, “But if you have to dance today we can do it some other time.”
May waved him off. “It’s okay, the concert is wrapped up now.”
“Is Anoki throwing another one of his fancy parties then?” Kai asked. “You gonna go?”
“Oh, shoot!” May jolted. “I completely forgot!” She hustled inside.
Once she was out of earshot, Em leaned forward and whispered. “Does she really know how to fix cars? How does know how to do things like build conveyance systems and design houses and stuff?”
“She picks up on things super fast. Always has. She’s a genius or something. It’s almost freaky sometimes.”
Before Em could reply, May rushed back out onto the deck clutching an envelope in her hand.
“The gala’s next weekend.” She handed the invitation to Em. “But I’ll be honest; I haven’t given it a lot of thought.”
“You should go, May,” Kai insisted. “Everyone in town is talking about what a good job you did. Go capitalize on all this good mojo for a change! You deserve it.”
May lit up. Until this moment she hadn’t been sure if showing up at the gala would have been a smart move. But with her brother’s encouragement she finally felt it was safe to entertain the idea. The very thought of it made her giddy.
She glanced back to Em who had just finished reading the invitation.
“Would you like to come with me?” she asked quietly, suddenly sheepish at the idea of asking Em on what was essentially a date.
“If you’re going to let the world know you two are a thing I can’t think of a better place to make it official,” Kai jibed.
Em could tell he was taking a swing at them, probably more out of concern for his sister than anything else. But Em didn’t care. Turning her attention back to May, she smiled brightly.
“It would be my pleasure.”