The Star and the Ocean: Chapter Seven

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Numb, May wandered aimlessly back into the living room, slowly letting disappointment wash over her. She’d had no reason to expect Em to be there when she woke up, but she had at least hoped for a chance to say goodbye.

Back to being alone, I guess… she thought. Emotion welled in her chest but she pressed it down.

May pushed herself to at least try and sneak in some practice before she had to get ready to head to Ora’s house. Half-heartedly, she shoved the coffee table tight against the couch and moved through the paces of her morning stretches. A swan-dive forward, hinging at the waist. Hugging her calves, May pressed her thin torso tightly against her legs and let her head hang loosely, stretching her neck long.

She held the position for a few breaths, letting the deep pull in her muscles distract from everything else. It felt good in a way that moving and pushing her body always had. She focused on the moment.

When she felt ready, she struck a pose. Lifting her arms gracefully and rising to her toes, she gave a smooth and steady twirl.

But it was the same move she had shown Em the night before, just as the wine had warmed her up and she had started to feel bold.

With her concentration shattered, May let out a groan of frustration.

“Forget it.” She huffed and stomped off to the bathroom to get ready for her day.

She took a longer shower than usual, letting the hot water trace rivulets down her body until her skin glowed pink. Combing her fingers through her wet hair, May remembered the way Em had called it cute. She buried her face in her hands, burning with embarrassment.

“I’m such a disaster,” she moaned.

It was only a short while later, as May packed her dance bag for the night ahead, when she heard a bang from downstairs.

She froze. Was that the door? No one ever came by on a weekday.

“May?”

She all but fell through her bedroom door.

There, out of breath and flushed, stood Em, her skin slick with sweat, giving it the appearance of being dusted with glitter.

“What, uh… What happened to the living room?”

“I was practicing.” May replied, distracted. “Where did you go?” The question came out more demanding than she intended.

Em blinked.

“I was out for a run,” she replied, only slightly taken aback at May’s tone. “I woke up early and I’ve always wanted to run on a beach, so I went for it. Is everything okay? You look a little out of it.”

“I thought you left,” May said quietly. She crept down the stairs without taking her eyes off Em, as if she might disappear if May looked away for even a second.

Em looked down and May followed her gaze down to where the backpack still sat by the door.

“Ugh,” May groaned. “Of course. I’m sorry, I’m not used to having house guests and I guess I just… I don’t know.”

“I figured,” Em grinned playfully. “You don’t strike me as the kind of person who brings someone home on the first date.”

A furious shade of crimson swept over May’s face and Em laughed.

“I’m just giving you a hard time,” Em said with a wink. “Listen. If it’ll make you feel better, I won’t bail without saying goodbye first. Fair?”

Thoroughly embarassed, May could only laugh and nod to reply.

“So, this town you mentioned last night,” Em began, deftly diffusing the awkwardness, “Either it’s really far away or I was running in the wrong direction.”

May’s stomach dropped.

“Why?” she asked, hoping the slight panic in her voice wasn’t as obvious as she felt it was. “Do you need something?”

“Not really,” Em replied nonchalantly. “I was just curious. I figured I’d come to it eventually. Except I didn’t.”

“It’s that way, the direction we came from last night,” May explained, motioning to the east. “It’s about a fifteen minute walk.”

“Wow.” Em looked genuinely surprised. “And you’re out here all alone? Why do you live so far away from town?”

May shifted uncomfortably while her mind scrambled for an answer that sounded plausible.

“This is where the treehouse was,” she offered, hoping it would stick.

“Huh…” it didn’t look like Em was sold, but she didn’t push it either. “So you walk to and from town every day just to look after your nephew?”

The color drained from May’s face.

“Oh, no!” she gasped, scrambling back up the stairs without so much as an explanation.

Em didn’t have time to move from where she stood before May flew back down, leaping over the last few steps altogether.

“Holy shit!” Em cried, reaching out to catch May if she stumbled. “Be careful!”

“I’m sorry!” May panted, not acknowledging Em’s concern. “But if I don’t leave right now I’m going to be late! I’m so sorry to have to take off like this, I-“

Em jumped out of the way to give May a clear path to the door. “No, I get it! I’ll just, uh…”

May spoke before she could think the words through.

“Please stay.”

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Banner art by @beverlylove

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