May jumped, blood running cold at the sound of an unfamiliar voice. The strange woman was now very awake and she sat half-raised, staring wide-eyed right at May.
There was no time to think, only react. May dropped the compass on top of the pack and scrambled to her feet, snatching up the knife as she went and holding it out in a way that she desperately hoped made it look like she knew what she was doing.
“Woah!” The stranger raised her hands and shuffled back as best she could from her place on the ground. Her eyes were a light, crystalline blue, unlike anything May had ever seen. They flicked nervously between the knife and the eyes of the woman holding it. “Holy shit, take it easy!”
May blinked. This woman didn’t look like the kind of person who use such colourful language. It threw May off.
She shook her head and tried to regain her composure.
“Who are you and what are you doing on my beach?” May demanded, sounding a whole lot braver than she felt. She had no claim to this beach, it just felt like the right thing to say.
“Your beach?” The woman asked, casting a quick glance around. The look on her face melted from incredulous disbelief to concern.
“Holy fuck, what is going on…”
Again, May was surprised.
She has no idea where she is.
“Are you drunk right now? High?” May balked. To her it seemed like the only thing that could explain how a person could fall asleep for days without knowing where they were.
“Stand up.” May demanded.
“Okay, I’m standing.” The woman grumbled, getting carefully to her feet. She gave May a critical once-over.
May felt panic leaden in her stomach.
Oh, no. What am I doing? Her mind reeled. If she comes at me I am so screwed. I can’t fight her! What am I supposed to do?
“Listen,” the stranger said, taking a cautious step forward. “I think we’re both just a little freaked out right now. Can we start over? Maybe we could start by putting the knife down?”
“No!” May shrieked, unexpectedly loud enough to make them both jump. “Don’t you come over here! Stay where you are!”
This was a disaster. May had just been trying to help, not take a prisoner. But she was mortified at having been caught rummaging through this woman’s things and now she wasn’t completely convinced that said woman hadn’t just been sleeping off a bad trip. May wanted to get as far away from this person as she could before anything else went wrong.
“Okay,” the woman spoke low and slowly, trying to keep her voice even. It was a dreamy sort of sound and it made May shiver. “Take whatever you want. Seriously, take it all. I don’t want any trouble here. I’ll leave right now.”
“Wait, what?” She shook her head. “I don’t want your stuff!”
“Then…” The stranger looked confused. “Why the hell are you going though my pack?”
“You’ve been asleep on this beach for three days!” May threw her hands up, making her hostage jump again. The woman’s eyes stayed fixed on the knife that was being so carelessly flailed around.
May began to feel exasperated. “I was trying to find out who you are because I thought you needed help.”
The woman’s face was awash with shock. “Three days? Are you sure?” Her gaze became unfocused as May nodded.
She looked around again, pushing back her hood as she ran her hands along her scalp and through her cascading silver hair. Even in the faint light it shimmered and for a moment May was captivated by everything about her: the hair, her ghostly complexion, those icy blue eyes wide with worry.
“A-are you okay?” May slowly lowered the knife to her side. Feeling somewhat foolish, she tried to shift the mood a bit. “Is there someone you need me to call?”
The strange woman rubbed her forehead and sighed, somehow managing to look tired after all that sleep.
“No,” she groaned. “No, and I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m sorry for trespassing.”
May flushed. “Y-you’re not trespassing,” she replied meekly. This isn’t my… I mean, I don’t know why I said that.”
An awkward silence hung between the two of them. The stranger looked hard at May in a way that made her feel as if she was reading her mind. May knew that the scrutiny should have made her uncomfortable but at the same time she couldn’t help but feel like someone was seeing her for the first time in ages. For some reason, it felt good having this person’s attention.
The woman smiled weakly. “I, uh, like your hair,” she said, causing May to sputter and reach instinctively for the rose gold waves of her short bob. “It’s cute.”
This hair? Mine? It was such a random thing to say at a time like this.
Nothing about this person – the way she looked, the way she spoke, the way she acted – none of it made any sense. But it was in that moment May knew she didn’t have to be afraid of her – and that she hadn’t from the very beginning.
“What’s your name?” The stranger asked.
May hesitated a moment before answering softly. “It’s May.”
And just like that, something changed. The strange woman’s face lit up, faint colour rushing to fill the apples of her cheeks and a warm smile spread across her lips.
“May,” she repeated. “That’s a sweet name. Listen, you can relax, okay? I promise I’m not going to hurt you.”
A violent flush rose up May’s neck and spilled across her face. When she didn’t respond, the woman held out her hand and tried again.
“I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.”
May looked at the woman’s outstretched hand. Cautiously, she accepted, shaking it politely.
“And who are you?” She asked.
The world around them started to swim until Em was all that May could see. With her deceptively warm hand in hers, May stood transfixed. Maybe it was the unusual circumstances, or perhaps it was the way Em’s pale skin seemed to glow in the twilight, but May was convinced for a reason she couldn’t quite place that this moment was important.
Em gave May’s hand a gentle squeeze, bringing her back to the real world. There was more blushing, a mumbling of an apology.
“May, I’m sorry I scared you. But I’m going to be honest with you: I have no idea where the hell I am and I’m really not sure how I got here.” She paused. “And to answer your previous question, I’m neither drunk nor high.”
May felt like a complete idiot. Gesturing vaguely, she held the knife away from her body like some repugnant dead thing.
“I’m sorry too,” she replied. “I don’t know what I was thinking waving this thing at you.”
“Yeah, I could kind of tell.” Em laughed.
May exhaled and managed to crack a smile. It was as if they were old friends patching things up after a petty fight.
With the mood lightened, May felt the overwhelming desire to be helpful. The words spilled out of her before she could even consider what she was saying.
“Y’know, you don’t have to sleep out here. My place isn’t far. You’re welcome to stay the night. On the couch or… I have a hammock, too. I promise I’ll put this thing away and everything.” She motioned to the knife.
Em didn’t answer right away, surveying May with that same intense stare. As if she could catch any hint of ill-intent just by looking at her.
She thinks I’m nuts, thought May. She thinks I’m absolutely crazy. This is crazy, isn’t it? What am I doing…
But Em only smiled.
“That sounds really nice, actually.”
May couldn’t hide her surprise. She hadn’t actually thought that Em would say yes. She felt a twitch in her stomach that normally would have been the swell of anxiety.
But this feeling was different.
This was excitement.
This was a slow heat running from her flushed cheeks to her pounding heart.
This was attraction.
Banner art by @beverlylove