May’s expression had grown dark. “I already told you, I don’t know what they did. I don’t know what was so bad they had to leave me behind.
“Have you ever tried to find them?”
Em was dumb-founded. “But… don’t you want to?” she asked. “Giving up your kid is kind of a huge deal. Doesn’t it bother you not knowing?”
It had been a very long time since May felt insecure about where she had come from, and now that feeling manifested itself into a bristling sensation running up her back. Her eyes narrowed over the rim of her wine glass.
“Does asking insensitive questions bother you?” The words spilled out before she could even think about what she was saying.
It was clear Em was both taken-aback and embarrassed. She gaped wordlessly for a moment before dropping her gaze into her glass and taking a long, hard swallow.
“You’re right, I’m sorry,” she murmured.
But, in a way that was so typical of her, May was already starting to feel guilty for snapping. She sighed and took a couple more sips in the silence that hung between them, taking the time to choose her words carefully.
“When I was little, it did bother me,” she admitted finally. “A lot, actually.”
She gestured back to the wedding photo on the wall.
“I mean, clearly I’ve never exactly blended in around here. It was hard growing up and always knowing I was different from everyone else in a way I couldn’t change.”
Em nodded slowly, her eyes somewhat unfocused as if she had started thinking about something else.
May swapped her glass into her left hand and held out her right so that Em could see the ring on her middle finger. A roughly cut yet truly stunning stone was set into a band of ornately engraved gold. With its almost gritty, salt and pepper-like quality, the gem was unlike anything Em had ever seen and she leaned in to get a closer look.
“Oh, wow,” she breathed.
“Apparently it was my mother’s wedding ring. She asked mama to give it to me when I was old enough. I guess it was her way of leaving me with a piece of them both.”
Smokey as the stone was, it seemed to catch the light in just such a way that made it sparkle brilliantly. Even the reflection of the dull evening light seemed bright enough to get caught in Em’s eyes, because for a moment May thought they looked like they were glowing.
But then Em blinked and the light was gone. She sat back and looked softly at May in a way that almost made her blush.
“That’s a nice gesture,” Em said. “It’s a beautiful ring.”
May smiled gently and gave a shrug.
“By then I was old enough to appreciate it was all for the best. This is all I’ve ever known. It might not perfect, but it could definitely be worse. And, I mean, it’s not like they ever came back for me, y’know?”
“Hmm…” Em hummed in non-committal response.
Now May really was blushing.
She couldn’t really remember having been that honest about what it had been like growing up as an outsider before, and it had been years since she had spoken about her birth parents. Normally she never would have dared hint she was hurt by them abandoning her. On the island, people didn’t ask if she was curious about where she had come from; the implication had always been she was lucky to have been taken in at all – to have grown up in such a beautiful place, generally shut off to irresponsible mainlanders like her parents.
She accepted this all as fact from a very early age. Who was she to be anything but grateful?
“What about you?” she asked finally, hoping that Em couldn’t tell how exposed she felt. “Where’s your family?”
Em considered the question over another long drink of wine, draining her glass.
“Well, it’s just, uh, dad and I these days.” The way she seemed to struggle with the word ‘dad’ caught May’s attention. She cocked her head questioningly but Em powered on as if she hadn’t noticed.
“Mom and I were tight when I was a kid, but she had always been sick. She died when I was thirteen. Then I was kind of a drifter for a while.”
“Oh!” The confession took May by surprise. Em came across as such a laid back person that May found it hard to imagine she had experienced such devastating loss. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. It was a long time ago.” Catching the mildly scandalized look on May’s face, she clarified. “I mean, it sucked and it was hard but that’s life.”
May reached for the bottle and refilled both of their glasses.
“So, where’s your dad then? Do you think you should get in touch with him?”
“Why?” Em seemed genuinely confused. “Oh, because of the whole mystery island business. No, honestly he’s a bit, uh, hard to track down.” She paused. “Although in his defense I guess I haven’t made staying in touch easy either.”
May abandoned the sip she had been about to take.
Now it was her turn to ask potentially invasive questions.
Banner art by @beverlylove