The two looked at each other in silent surprise. Even May couldn’t believe she had said it, but after spending the morning moping in disappointment she knew now wasn’t the time to be shy about what she wanted.
“I mean, you can do what you want,” she forced herself to be bold. “But I’d really like it if you stayed.”
She fumbled with her shoes while Em gaped for something to say.
Throwing the door open, May gave Em one last look and tried not to think that this could be the last time they’d see each other.
“I’m so sorry I have to run like this.”
But Em just smiled.
“It’s cool. Go!”
And with that, May darted out the door and down the spiral staircase.
At least Em hadn’t said goodbye.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come?”
It took May a moment to realize the question had been directed at her. She had been crouched over her bag, fully involved in unceremoniously flinging her things inside. She snapped her head up when it dawned on her, wide-eyed and a little embarrassed. May hesitated before answering.
Bodies pushed around her as she awkwardly took up space right in the middle of the crowded changing floor. They were like a pack of dogs pressing to a gate, ready to run. May could tell they were eager to get moving, some even to the point of casting thinly veiled looks of impatience her way, knowing that Lenaia – their unassuming alpha – wouldn’t give the command until May gave her an answer.
She looked up at Lenaia, and at the genuinely welcoming smile on her peachy round face. She also looked at the small contingent of performers Lenaia managed to gather in what had been no time at all. She was magnetic that way. It was a wonder she wasn’t a performer herself. She had an infectious kind of energy about her May quietly envied in others. Sure, May was the one on stage, but she would never be the one to spontaneously whip up the rest of the show’s cast into a random night of drinking, dancing and who knew what else.
An invitation like this was a rare one. It flustered her. The part of her desperate to re-assimilate, to do whatever it took to slip quietly back into the social fold, screamed at her to say yes.
Against all logic, she screwed up what she hoped was a convincing look of regret.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I already made plans tonight.” She wondered if anyone believed her. “Next time for sure though. I promise!”
A low murmur made its way through the growing group gathered by the door, but May opted to focus on Lenaia’s effortless acceptance of her excuse and friendly wave goodbye.
Whatever the others thought May wasn’t saying – oh, who was she kidding? She had a pretty good idea of what they were whispering about – they couldn’t be more wrong.
Slinging her bag over her shoulder and pulling her hood down over her rosy curls, May gave a distracted wave as she slid past her castmates and out into the night.
Setting a brisk pace, and she quickly made her way to the outskirts of town. Eventually the steady roll of waves replaced the white noise of civilization. While this would normally be the part of her commute when she started to relax, tonight she was too lost in thought to let go.
What was she honestly expecting to find when she got home? Her stomach tightened regardless of what outcome she imagined. May took a second to remind herself to breathe.
Soon she was standing on the beach staring up at her house. Even from down by the surf it was hard to see onto the deck. There was definitely a light on inside – probably the lamp by the couch. Had she left it on before leaving that morning? Or was she just getting her hopes up?
She climbed the stairs but stopped short of opening the door. Fumbling awkwardly, she pressed her ear up to the door and listened for a moment.
The waves were still the only sound.
What are you doing? May berated herself. Open the door. It’s your house!
Taking one last deep breath, she pushed the door open quietly.
The quiet was short lived. Her bag got caught up on the door handle and she stumbled gracelessly inside.
“Oh, shit! Are you okay?”
Relief mixed with mortification. She willed herself to look to the deck. A pair of icy blue eyes stared back, full of concern.
Those eyes, pale and striking. May wasn’t sure she’d ever get used to them. Then again, she still wasn’t sure if she’d get the chance to.
“Em,” she breathed. “You’re still here.”
Em frowned in confusion. “What?”
Straightening herself out, May cleared her throat and tried to shake it off. “I wasn’t sure you would still be here.”
Sitting upright in the hammock, Em laughed. “I told you I wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye, didn’t I?”
May smiled down at the floor in an attempt to hide her relief. “Yeah, I guess you did.”
But when Em started to pull herself to her feet, May scrambled.
“You don’t have get up!” She rushed to the deck as Em hovered uncertainly with one leg on the ground.
Em raised an eyebrow and May laughed in spite of herself.
“I, uh… Can I get you some tea?”
A few minutes later the kettle came to a boil while May dropped a couple of freshly made tea bags into mismatched mugs. An evening breeze wafted in off the ocean through the open sliding deck door, unseasonably cool. She shivered as a trail of goosebumps snaked down her arms. May glanced over her shoulder and out to the deck where Em had settled back into the hammock, long silvery hair trailing over the side. It caught the moonlight just right and shimmered like the gentle waves that rolled into the surf.
May made her way carefully down the split levels, a mug in each hand, and leaned out the door.
“Do you take anything in yours? I’ve got some cream, lemon… Maybe a bit of sugar but I’d have to look.”
Em smiled at her and took the mug May held out. “No, I’m good. Thanks. You’re such a considerate hostess.”
“Ha!” May laughed, dragging an ancient folding chair across the deck with the tip of her foot. “How sweet of you to say so.”
They shared a couple peaceful moments, allowing the tide to fill in the silence. Em blew on the surface of her tea absentmindedly, staring intently across the dark ocean. May took small sips and watched her guest surreptitiously out of the corner of her eye. All day she’d gone over the things she wanted to say Em since the previous night but suddenly she couldn’t remember any of it.
“So,” Em spoke first without looking away from the water. “How’s showbiz treating you?”
May smiled into her mug.
“Oh, y’know,” she shrugged. “Just pretending to be a star.”
“Remind me to snag your autograph.” Em grinned, finally looking to May and giving her a wink. “And before I forget, thanks again for everything. The hammock, the tea, all of it.”
“It seems like the least I could do after rifling through your stuff.”
“And lest we forget: accosting me with that kitchen knife.”
May spluttered halfway through her sip.
“I did not accost you! I was just… playing it safe.” When Em cocked an eyebrow, May swatted at her. “You could have been a drugged-out crazy person for all I knew!”
“Hey, I’m just glad you didn’t hurt yourself with that thing.” Another wink.
May pretended to be offended, hiding her smile behind her mug, “I totally knew what I was doing.”
Em let out a loud bark of a laugh. “Sure you did.”
May rolled her eyes.
“I’m just bugging you,” Em said. “Also, thanks for not secretly being a murderer.”
Em was still essentially a stranger and yet it was so easy for May to banter with her. It had hardly been a day since they’d met, but she already felt so comfortable; it was as if they had riffed off each other this way their entire lives.
She hadn’t realized she was staring until Em cocked her head, breaking May’s reverie.
“Where’d you go?” She laughed and May gave her head a shake.
“Oh! I’m not really sure…”
They drifted back into their easy silence, May sipping and Em staring out to sea. After a moment, May tried again. “Any luck figuring out how you wound up on the island?”
At the question a faint glow grew behind Em’s pallid cheeks. She went rigid and stole a quick glance at the stars, the way someone might look to a friend for support when they don’t have the right answer to an awkward question. The stars must not have had anything for her because she didn’t say anything, pursing her lips instead.
May shifted uncomfortably.
“I just want you to know you’re welcome to stay until you figure out what your next move is.”
Em’s turned quickly to face May. For the second time that night, those pale eyes were wide with concern.
“May.” She breathed.
“You don’t have to do that,” Em said softly. “Letting me spend a night or two is generous enough.”
“I don’t have to.” May agreed. “But I want to.”
Em gave an incredulous grin. “Sure, but why?”
May paused and considered Em’s blunt but fair question.
Because you don’t have anywhere to go?
Because you don’t even know where you are?
Both were true but neither were the right answer. There was only one true answer. An answer she knew she could never say out loud.
Because I’m not ready for you to disappear.
Banner art by @beverlylove