Em let the answer hang between them, waiting for May to catch on.
It only took a heartbeat for what Em was implying to settle in.
“It was you!” she gasped. “You were the baby, weren’t you?”
Em just smiled in reply, a hint of sadness behind her eyes.
“Oh my gosh,” May babbled. “What happened to your mother?”
“The woman and her daughter had thirteen awesome years together. She made a great mom and raised her little girl to be feisty and independent.”
At this May couldn’t help but smile.
“But she was still sick. One of the complications of her condition were arrhythmias. Her heart wasn’t beating right. She died of a heart attack when she was thirty-two.”
Even though she had gone into it knowing that the story wasn’t going to end well, May was still shaken by the truth. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Em shrugged. “They both knew that it was a possibility. The woman made sure her daughter was as prepared as she could be.”
May knit her brows. “Why are you talking about yourself in the third person like that? You are talking about you and your mother, aren’t you?”
Again, Em shrugged, dropping her gaze to her hands which she was nervously twisting into knots.
“It’s in the past.” A vague answer.
May wanted to push her on it – Em had said she would tell her anything she wanted to know – but seeing Em so downtrodden made her lose her edge. She opted to drop it for now.
“What about the Star?” she tried instead. “Is this the ‘dad’ you were talking about last night?”
“Ah, the ol’ celestial baby-daddy.” Em laughed, her spirits improving slightly. “I said ‘dad’ because I wasn’t sure what else to call them, but that’s probably not the best way to describe our relationship.” She tapped at her lips thoughtfully. “They’re still around, sort of.”
May wasn’t quite sure how to talk about Em’s heavenly parent. “Do you think they know how you wound up here?”
“Oh, probably,” Em huffed, leaning back on her elbows and staring up into space. “But they’ve been conveniently difficult to get in touch with lately.” She yelled the last part skyward, as if hoping to get their attention.
“You’ve tried?” May wasn’t sure why this surprised her, but it did.
“Last night after you went to bed, again when I was out running and once more after you left for the day. Haven’t heard a damn thing.”
“Oh…” May wondered what trying to get in touch with a Star entailed.
The two were quiet then, minutes stretching out before them with only the crackling of the fire and the rushing of the waves to fill the silence. May absentmindedly patted at her cheeks, warm and rosy from the flames, as she mulled over everything Em had told her.
Did she believe her? It was all so fantastic and unreal – how could she possibly? But still, Em was right – how else was she supposed to explain what she had seen?
May glanced quickly toward Em and was surprised to see her staring back. A weak smile tugged at the corners of Em’s mouth.
“You must think I’m fucking crazy, don’t you?” There was a melancholy in Em’s voice that May hadn’t noticed before.
May didn’t answer right away. She tugged gently at one of her curls, staring off into nothing and trying to think of the right thing to say.
“No,” she answered at last. “I don’t think you’re crazy, I just…” She hesitated, forcing herself to look Em in the eyes. “Why did you decide to tell me all of this?”
“Because you asked?” Em offered. May shook her head.
“No, I’m serious,” she demanded as gently as she could.
“I don’t know, May.” Em threw her hands up in defeat. “I guess I just felt like I could trust you. Having to pretend to be normal is…” She paused, “It’s lonely when nobody really knows you.”
“Normal?” May was confused. “Why would you want to pretend to be normal when you’re…” She grasped for something to say, gesturing vaguely at Em, “When you’re so special.”
Em laughed bitterly.
“Special is just another way of saying different, and being different isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
“What do you mean?”
Em rubbed her forehead. She looked so tired.
“I don’t know,” she muttered. “I just thought – I thought after what you said last night about not being able to fit in because of something you can’t change… I felt like you might understand.”
The flush in May’s cheeks deepened, but this time it had nothing to do with the fire’s heat.
Never in her life had what made her different – what made her most insecure about herself – been something anyone tried to bond with her over. She was completely out of her element, and yet…
For the first time since Em stepped off the deck and turned everything upside down, May felt like things were going to be okay.
Still, she struggled to find the words. Nothing felt like the right thing to say and so instead she stood, shuffled over, and brought herself back down to the sand beside Em.
May couldn’t quite bring herself to look at Em yet, but even from the corner of her eye she could tell Em was surprised by the move.
They let the moments slip by, May watching the fire burn down and Em sitting stock still as if even the slightest movement might shatter the peaceful calm they seemed to have found.
May eventually spoke first.
“I’m not going to pretend I completely understand what’s going on. There’s a part of me that feels like I’m going to wake up tomorrow and this will have all been a dream.”
Beside her, Em chuckled softly.
“But,” May turned to face her finally. “I just wanted you to know that the offer still stands.”
Em blinked. “What offer?”
May let out a long breath, steeling her courage. Here I go again…
“To stay. With me.”
Banner art by @beverlylove