The Star and the Ocean: Chapter Twenty-One

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May woke up to darkness. Groping blindly around the bed, she wasn’t surprised when she came up empty handed. It had only been a handful of nights since she started sharing her bed with Em, but already the feeling of being alone was enough to rouse her from a deep sleep.

This wasn’t the first time she had awoken unexpectedly to find the space beside her empty. When it happened a couple of nights ago, she had made her way gingerly through the night and out onto the deck where she found Em hovering peacefully, staring up at the night’s sky.

Em had apologized for waking her.

“I know you can’t feel it,” she said. “But the Stars are sending out such good vibes tonight. It’s like the feeling you get when you listen to your favorite song.”

That night, when Em had extended her hand, May swallowed her fear of heights and took it. With her arms wrapped tightly around Em’s shoulders, May experienced the closest thing to weightlessness. Suspended between the ocean and the stars, with the gentle swirling of displaced air rustling around her, she imagined she was without a body – just a mind, completely at peace and seamlessly a part of the universe around her.

Remembering how it felt – and how romantic it had been to share a long, slow kiss with Em while they drifted untethered in the night air – May smiled and slid out of bed. Perhaps tonight would bring more of the same.

The night was still and calm. An oppressive heat pressed down, signalling the arrival of summer on the island. May stepped through the sliding doors and out onto the deck, hoping for even a hint of a cool breeze rolling in off the ocean.

If Em was outside, she wasn’t hovering like last time. The only light on the beach came from the stars and the moon in its last quarter. It wasn’t much to go on, but as May scanned the shoreline, she caught Em’s silhouette framed in the meager light down by the water.

She must have been too warm, May thought, watching Em in silence.

The last thing May wanted to do was disturb the moment. Smiling, she was struck by how content she was, sharing both this moment and her days with someone she found so enchanting. For the first time in years, she felt lucky.

Out on the shore, Em stood very still. Arms at her sides, she stared out across the ocean as the surf broke at her bare feet.

May had just made up her mind to head down and join her when Em moved, slow at first, shoulders rising and falling in deep breaths. She took one step forward into the water, then another. May noticed how unsteady she looked. Before May could call out, Em scrambled forward, pitching herself wildly into the ocean.

“Em? What are you doing?” May yelled, taken aback by the violence in Em’s motion. She didn’t look like someone out for a casual midnight swim. May fumbled her way down the stairs and across the sand, continuing to call out to Em.

May heard Em crying out over the sound of the waves as they crashed over her. The words were unclear but her voice was heavy with anguish.

May’s heart dropped – she didn’t know what was happening but she knew what it looked like.

“Em!” May screamed desperately, hoping to snap Em out of whatever delirious spell dragged her out into the waves. “What are you doing? Come back!”

Em wasn’t even trying to stay afloat as the water beat down over her. Without pausing, May threw herself in, swimming against the tide. Tiny as she was, island life made a good swimmer out of May. She reached Em in a matter of moments.

As May tried to wrap her arm around a flailing and floundering Em, the frantic woman kicked and reached forward, trying to drag herself below the surface. It took some struggle, but at last May had a decent grip and, in a surge of adrenaline-induced strength, she hauled Em back to shore and onto the sand.

“What are you doing?” May shouted, throwing herself on top of Em to keep her pinned. Breathless and exhausted as they both were, Em still put up a fight, mindlessly thrashing and sobbing unintelligibly. “Please, just stop and talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong!”

The sky filled with a bright moving light. May ducked low over Em as a shrill whistling shot past them, erupting in a blinding flash on the sand.

“No,” Em groaned, her first coherent words since the ordeal had begun. “Not now. Go away! Leave me alone!”

Startled and confused, May crouched protectively over Em, watching breathlessly as the light swirled and manifested itself in a human-like figure. The brightness receded inward leaving behind the form of a person draped in a traveling cloak, glowing dimly with residual light.

May didn’t need to ask. She knew who it was.

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Banner art by @blushmallet

 

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