May smothered her burning face into a pillow. “Oh, noooo… No, I’m a terrible person!” she wailed, trying to be as quiet as possible.
What had she been thinking? Had Em caught her staring? Was it obvious? May’s stomach twisted at the thought. It had been so long since she had been around a woman she felt attracted to. She couldn’t tell if she had been coming across too strong. Could Em tell? And if she could, had it made her uncomfortable? The very idea made May feel sick.
She hadn’t seemed uncomfortable, though.
May pulled the covers over her head and rolled onto her side, feeling a new swell of dedication towards falling asleep and blissfully forgetting how foolishly she may or may not have acted that night.
But she was too still and too quiet. She was so frustratingly conscious and, as if on cue, in crept the thoughts that haunted her when she let her guard down.
The darker corners of May’s mind imagined Em hearing the rumors people still whispered about her all these years later – truth mixed in with lies. She imagined that mischievous grin twisting into a frown of disgust, an accusatory glare flashing in brilliant eyes. Whatever good Em might have seen in May right now wouldn’t possibly survive knowing what everyone else already held as truth and, just like that, it didn’t matter whether or not she had noticed May’s dreamy stares or awkward, albeit unintentional, excuse for flirting.
She tossed again, clenching her eyes tightly.
“Stop it,” she hissed. She took a few deep breaths, trying to focus on the rhythmic crash of the surf until her heartbeat slowed.
Eventually, unable to handle being alone with her thoughts any longer, May crawled out of bed to her small window and pushed open the shutters. She searched through the tree’s gently swaying boughs, spotting the brightest star in the sky.
This was what she did sometimes on nights when she felt most alone; staring up at a glittering night sky helped calm her and reminded her that, in this whole great universe, her problems were really quite small.
“Please.” She whispered up at the star she’d chosen. “Just… don’t let her think I’m weird or anything.”
She breathed deeply until calm gradually crept into her veins.
Back in bed, she listened to the ebb and flow of the ocean until, at last, she fell asleep.
The next time she opened her eyes, May stood alone on the shore.
The night was at its darkest, lit only by a glittering dome of brilliant stars overhead. A warm breeze swept gently off the ocean and the familiar sound of rolling waves surrounded her. It all should have been comforting but, for some reason, May sensed something wasn’t right.
Little was visible in the dim light of the stars, but when her eyes dropped to the water she saw the waves coursing backwards, away from the sandy shore.
Something on the horizon drew her gaze up and away from the tide. Somewhere out on the ocean hovered a light, dim at first but glowing steadily brighter without getting bigger.
Her stomach fluttered. In the back of her mind, she thought she ought to be afraid. Yet, despite the sense of dread, she knew what she had to do. Em’s pack rested abandoned at her feet. Without a second thought she hauled it from the sand, pulled the straps over her shoulders and walked out across the water, toward the light.
It could have been hours, it could have been days, but May walked across the ocean until quite suddenly the light was very close. It was so bright and she was squinting through the rays when a voice called out, crystalline and clear.
She blinked. The light dimmed, allowing her to see the source.
Em stood in the center of the light, serene, her pale features glowing brightly. She smiled wide and embraced May like an old friend.
“I knew you could do it,” Em whispered, holding May back enough to look her in the eyes.
All at once warmth filled May’s chest, any sense of fear or foreboding vanished. Slowly, Em’s light intensified again until they both disappeared into a blinding whiteness.
May shielded her eyes, blinking through the morning light pouring in through her window. She had forgotten to close the shutters before she went back to bed and now her room was bathed in the light of day in a way she simply wasn’t used to.
For a moment she floundered, the residue of the dream still clinging to the edges of her mind. Hadn’t she just been standing in the middle of the ocean? No, of course not, that didn’t make sense… But Em had been there, and…
May shot straight up, suddenly very awake. Scrambling out from beneath the covers she threw the sliding door of her room wide and scampered down the stairs.
“Em?” she called out, rushing across the house to the deck.
The glass door was closed. The hammock was empty, aside from the blanket folded neatly in the centre. May hurried to the bathroom, but it was empty too.
There was nothing, not even so much as a note.
Em was gone.
Banner art by @beverlylove