As if in reply to May’s dread, a deep voice boomed cheerfully from the other side of the door.
“Oh, Maayyyybe!” it called, loud despite being muffled by the door. “If you’re not going to have dinner with us, then we’re going to have lunch with you!”
The door swung open to reveal a large man, looking as upbeat as he sounded. His long, sea-swept hair was held back by a bandana and he carried a paper bag filled to bursting with groceries in the crook of one thick, bronzed arm.
His dark, shining eyes fell on May and Em. The smile slid from his face.
May leaped up, sending the bowl clattering to the floor, berries skittering in every direction.
“Kai!” A woman’s voice sounded from behind the stunned man in the doorway. “Don’t just stand there! Let us in!”
May groaned, dragging her hands through her hair in dismay. Em shifted a puzzled stare between the two as more people piled into the small entry.
Two women – one old, the other younger – were followed by a man carrying a young boy. The chattering group was brought up by a stout older man who shepherded them all inside.
“Don’t leave me out here,” he barked. “The rain is coming.”
One by one they fell silent at the sight of May and Em. For a moment the world stopped; no one said a word. Then, as if on cue, the clouds split open, dropping the first of many fat raindrops loudly onto the treehouse roof.
“Who -” the elder woman gasped, only to be cut off by a squeal from the little boy. He was the only person in the room who seemed happy to be there.
Taking advantage of his father’s slack-jawed surprise, the boy wriggled down to the floor and darted to May, wrapping her knees in a tight hug.
Sinking down to the the boy’s level, May forced an unsteady smile across her face, trying to shake off the mortification. “Hello, Omi.”
“Oh,” Em whispered, comprehension washing over her.
The younger of the two women rushed down from the doorway and snatched the boy back just as May stood with him in her arms.
“What is going on?” She hissed with wide-eyed fury.
“Everyone, this is Em,” she croaked.
Glancing back at Em over her shoulder, May smiled weakly. “Em, this is my family.”
“What in the world were you thinking?” May’s mother wagged an accusatory finger in her daughter’s face. Small but mighty, she was a matriarch not to be trifled with even on the best of days.
May winced, shrinking back from her mother’s rage. This was exactly what she had been worried about; the very reason she had kept Em a secret.
“She was sick, mama,” May lied. “She got lost while she was backpacking around the island and she needed help. What was I supposed to do?”
Ora, who had been leaning back against the counter with her arms crossed, scoffed loudly.
“Help her, sure. But did you need to let her live with you?” Ora stalked forward, stooping down so as to force her sister to look her in the eyes. “Do you have any idea what this looks like?”
May flushed a deep and violent crimson.
“That’s not what this is,” she shot back in a harsh whisper, desperate to lower the volume of the conversation. She glanced miserably toward the deck where Em sat alone in the hammock, exiled by May’s family so that they could all speak privately.
Yes, this was exactly what she had been hoping to avoid.
Her father sighed.
“Then what is it, May?” he asked.
Her heart clenched at the disappointment in his voice. She hated the look that strained his face whenever she let him down. She could only shrug in response lest her voice give away her facade of indifference.
“You have come so far, Maybe,” her mother said, stern but steady. “And we have been trying so hard to make thing easier for you. But this?” – she gestured across the kitchen and toward the deck – “This isn’t going to help.”
May took a deep breath, trying to remain calm. She may have hated disappointing her family, but something about being interrogated like this struck a nerve. After four years of being on her best behaviour, she was tired of the constant scrutiny.
This isn’t fair, her mind burned furiously. I am not a bad person.
Stalling, May evaded the accusatory stares of her parents and sister by watching as her brother, Kai, edged closer to the sliding doors. In hushed tones, he started a conversation with Em, and she engaged him with a genuine smile.
“I’m not just going to turn away someone who needs help,” May huffed, crossing her arms.
Her mother’s eyes narrowed ominously.
“Well, she looks like she’s feeling better to me.”
“I don’t know,” commented May’s brother-in-law, Grey, as he hopped up the few short steps into the kitchen. Omi squirmed in his arms, on the verge of a tantrum. “She’s awfully pale, don’t you think? What’s wrong with her?”
“Kai!” their mother shouted, making everyone jump. “Time to go.”
May watched as her brother shot Em an apologetic look before moving toward the door, scooping up the bag of groceries as he went.
With little else said, May’s family left just as quickly as they arrived. She stood still and tightly drawn well after the door closed and the sound of Kai’s loud junker of a van dissipated down the beach. She was numb from the onslaught of emotion. Embarrassment, anger and defiance mixed, lingering somewhere just below the surface.
“May?” Em called gently, climbing the steps from the living room to the kitchen. “Is everything okay?”
May shook her head, rubbing her eyes hard.
“I’m so sorry,” she replied weakly. “I promise they’re good people. That was so…” She trailed off, unsure how to explain away her family’s behavior.
“It’s okay,” Em smiled, trying to lighten the mood with a playful swing at May’s arm. “I’m sure they’re just worried I’m an escaped convict or something.”
“No.” May couldn’t even bring herself to humor Em’s joke. “That’s not it. Besides, they treated me like a child and they didn’t even give you a chance.”
For a moment, neither spoke. Em bit her lip, watching nervously as May took a series of deep, calming breaths.
“Is there something I can do?” Em asked quietly.
May blinked as a thought crossed her mind. She didn’t have much to lose now. The damage was done and she found herself past the point of caring.
She looked to Em and smiled.
“Yes, actually. Do you want to come to my show tonight?”
Banner art by @beverlylove