“How come you haven’t stayed in touch with your dad?” May asked.
Em shook the blanket off her shoulders and relaxed into the back of the couch. “As I was saying before I was interrupted by your super cool treehouse, I’ve been backpacking through the mountains for the last month or so. I have a phone but it’s been dead for a while, what with there being no electricity in the wilderness and all.”
May was intrigued. She couldn’t fathom the idea of spending that much time living with only the things on her back out in the middle of nowhere. But at the same time, it did sound kind of exciting and she wondered if she was the type of person with the gumption to pull it off.
“Why were you out there?”
“Trying to get to the coast.”
“What was on the coast?”
“I don’t know.” Em grinned over her glass. “That’s why I was going.”
At this point, the wine was warming May’s face. She could feel herself loosening up and Em’s coy responses made her laugh loudly.
“Are you going to keep making me ask questions or are you just going to tell me your story?”
Em laughed back.
“My story, huh?” She paused and seemed to consider her words carefully before continuing, “Well, for the last couple of years I was actually living in a mountain town called Tenna. Have you ever been?”
May shook her head. “I’ve never left the island.”
Em raised her eyebrows in surprise.
“We’ll come back to that,” she said and May giggled. “Anyway, I worked for the region’s emergency response team. It was a great gig – cool teammates, got to help people. Tough but worth it… Gotta question?”
The fascination was written so plainly on May’s face that Em couldn’t help but grin.
A question? May had so many that she wasn’t sure where to start.
“What does an emergency response team do?”
“Everything,” Em replied. “We find lost hikers, do avalanche control in the winter, manage forest fires in the summer – all that good stuff. Tenna is one of the only towns in that part of the mountain range, so it’s a bit of a junction for travellers trying to get from one side to the other. Someone’s gotta look out for them.”
It all sounded so adventurous to May. She regarded Em in a new light, trying to see her as a life-saving hero instead of the wandering vagabond she had originally written her off to be.
The questions kept spilling out.
“How do you even get involved in something like that? And why did you leave? Did something happen?”
Em stretched and smiled. “No, nothing happened. It was just time. As far as how I got into it, that’s a much longer story but it’ll have to wait. It’s your turn again.”
May opened her mouth to protest but Em cut her off.
“What do you do with your life, May?”
Had it not been for the placating effects of the wine, May might have insisted on hearing the whole story right then and there. But Em’s question reminded her of the foul mood she had been in earlier in the week and her normal polite demeanor was waning.
She downed what was left in her glass and and sat up prim and proper, shaking her short hair back from her face.
“I happen to be a nanny!” She proclaimed with saccharine sweetness, emphasizing the word ‘nanny’ with air quotes.
“Yikes!” Em laughed. “You sound so, uh, proud?”
“It’s actually not that bad,” May sighed, feeling a little guilt poking its way through the haze of wine. “I help my sister take care of Omi.”
“Huh,” was Em’s uncertain response.
May continued, trying a bit harder to be diplomatic. “I know it’s nothing glamorous but it’s actually kind of fun in a way. I love spending time with him. But I also dance!”
“Oh?” Em’s grin was full of mischief. “What kind of dancing do you do?”
Feeling bold, May leaned forward and gave Em’s knee a playful slap.
“Nothing like that,” she huffed, not so intoxicated that she couldn’t pick up on the insinuation. “Dancing like, in a theatre. Here, I’ll show you!”
She moved swiftly around the coffee table and pulled herself skillfully up onto her toes. Despite the warm buzz coursing through her, the transformation was effortless. She raise her arms and gave a graceful twirl.
Em knew nothing about dance, but even she could tell May was talented.
“Very nice. But can you do it without the wine?” She joked before having to lean back to dodge another swat from May. “Where’d you learn to do that?”
“We studied a bit of dance in school,” May replied airily, dancing her way back around the table to her place on the couch. “It wasn’t much but I really enjoyed it so I just kind of kept at it. I watch a lot of old movies. Actors used to dance in movies all the time back then, so I like to practice their routines and stuff.”
Em blinked. “Wait, so are you saying you pretty much taught yourself?”
“Well, I’m just getting back into it,” May answered, and Em wasn’t sure if she hadn’t heard the question properly or if she was just ignoring it. “I actually just started dancing in a spring showcase with the performing arts group in town and -“
She stopped. Eyes suddenly wide, she turned quickly to the clock on one of her shelves.
“Ah!” She gasped. “When did it get so late?”
“Probably after the second glass,” Em replied. “Why? What’s wrong?”
“Tomorrow’s Friday!” May groaned, rubbing her temples. “I have to dance a show after looking after Omi all day.”
Tipping back what was left in her glass, Em stood.
“I guess that means it’s bed time, huh?”
May looked up at her and frowned. While she wouldn’t have admitted it out loud, she was disappointed at having to call it a night. She was really enjoying having company for a change.
“Yeah, I guess so,” she sighed. “Do you need anything else?”
“No.” Em smiled, gathering up the blanket from the couch. “I think the hammock and I will be very comfortable. Thanks again for letting me spend the night.”
May blushed. “No problem. Sleep tight, Em.”
“Sweet dreams, May.”
May wasn’t sure how long she laid in bed, wide awake and staring at the ceiling.
At this rate, any kind of dream was a long way off, but it was a nice thought.
It was at least long enough for her buzz to wear off, the heavy sensation of reality settling into the void the wine left behind.
Only a handful of hours ago she had found a stranger on the beach, waved a knife at her like a lunatic – every time she thought about that part her whole body flushed with humiliation – and then invited said woman to spend the night in her hammock. And, if all of that wasn’t surreal enough, this strange and wonderful woman had said yes.
A thrill rushed her stomach every time she thought about how much fun it had been to spend her evening talking with Em instead of doing her regular nothing alone. May relived every moment of their conversation; from each truth revealed, to the looks and smiles insinuating parts left out. There was so much May hadn’t told her, but she had a feeling there was just as much Em kept to herself too.
Now that she was alone, May could think of question after question she wanted to ask her enigmatic house guest. Glancing at the clock at her bedside, she groaned; at this rate she may as well have just stayed up talking. She wondered if Em was laying awake too.
Closing her eyes, May tried to clear her mind. It didn’t matter if Em was awake or not; she had to be up early. But instead of blank nothingness, May’s mind wandered back to Em; her face swimming vividly in front of her mind’s eye. The way those unbelievably icy blue eyes crinkled in the corners when she flashed a mischievous smile. Her long shimmering silver hair cascading like a flowing stream around her ghostly face and over pale bare shoulders.
Except May had never seen Em’s bare shoulders.
Her eyes snapped open as the embarrassing truth hit her: she had been completely willing to offer up her home and risk her safety because of a beautiful woman.
Em’s was an eerie sort of beauty, but it was beauty nonetheless.
She couldn’t deny it.
May was smitten.
Banner art by @beverlylove