Content warning: This chapter includes implied, non-explicit reference to emotional abuse and physical coercion.
The memory of their ill-fated tryst was still fresh in Em’s mind. Just like on that morning, she could tell May was working up the courage to tell her something difficult.
“May, you don’t have to-”
May waved her off. “I want to.”
It was sort of true. She didn’t want to have this conversation at all, but she did want to be honest with Em.
Em wasn’t buying it, but she nodded anyway.
May took a deep breath and began.
“There used to be this guy in town named Kane. He was cool and talented and charming. Girls were crazy about him. Everyone thought he was so great.”
“I’m guessing you didn’t?” Em asked.
“Not even a little bit. But he could play a bunch of instruments and normally played accompaniment for productions at the theater. A handful of years ago he was doing the music for a show I was dancing in and, I don’t know, I guess he homed in on me for some reason. He tried to get me to sleep with him. He was… Really pushy about it.”
“Ugh!” Em was visibly disgusted. “He was one of those guys.”
“Hm,” May replied vaguely, the look on her face distant. “He was also one of those guys who did not take rejection well.”
Em went stiff beside her. May didn’t look at her and Em didn’t speak.
“He was so mad,” May continued, her voice quiet. “He told me I had a lot of nerve, saying no to someone like him. That someone like me – basically a mainlainder – should have been grateful for the attention.”
“What a fucking dick,” Em growled. “Did he not know you’re gay?”
May laughed. The sound was hollow. “That was part of the problem. No one knew.”
She glanced at Em in time to see comprehension wash over her.
“Oh,” Em muttered.
May sighed. “Well, one person knew. She was my sister’s friend in school, but we were the same age so after Ora graduated we became good friends. She’s one who convinced me to join the theater; she was a dancer too.”
Em remembered the photo on the wall backstage, the one of May smiling beside the girl with the dark features.
“What was her name?”
May didn’t answer right away. Staring off vacantly, her right thumb tucked beneath her palm and flicked at the ring on her middle finger. It was a nervous tick Em had observed on more than one occasion.
“Mila,” May said at last. She spoke the name like a word in an unfamiliar language. It had been a very long time since she had said it out loud.
“We were best friends. We spent all our time together. I don’t even remember saying anything to her about how I felt, we just kept growing closer until we were… Together, I guess.”
“You guess?” Em asked, struggling to keep her voice neutral. She wondered if there was anyone out there who didn’t find it uncomfortable to talk about past lovers with someone they were interested in.
“It was a secret,” May admitted with a cringe. “Her family was very traditional and…” she frowned deeply, leaving her thought unfinished.
“We used to stay late at the theater after rehearsals so we could… Be together.” She continued, her voice growing shaky. “We’d offer to clean up or tell the others we were going to keep practicing.”
May pulled her hand back, leaving Em grasping after her. Breathing heavily, she covered her eyes, giving herself a moment of privacy while she worked up the courage to keep going.
“One night, we thought we were alone,” May’s words came faster now. She brought her trembling hands down to her lap. She wouldn’t look up. “We didn’t realize Kane had stayed. He was… he was watching us. We didn’t know.”
Her voice cracked and Em reached out, wrapping her arm around May’s stiff shoulders.
“There’s a camera backstage, by that wall with the pictures,” May’s voice was so small now. “We use it to help with blocking or to goof around, but…”
Em gasped. “He didn’t.”
May nodded and started to cry. The tears came fast, streaming down her face faster than she could wipe them away.
“One picture,” she sobbed. “He said he was going to show it to everyone. Mila panicked. She was so scared of what would happen if her family found out about her, about us.”
“What do you mean ‘she panicked’, May?” Em asked, unease creeping over her.
May inhaled a shuddering breath.
“She asked me – she begged me to give him what he wanted. Anything to fix it and make the picture go away.”
The implication took Em’s breath away.
“Did you?” She hated herself for asking the moment the words left her lips. May covered her mouth tightly and stared blindly ahead, fresh tears snaking their way down her face.
“I didn’t think twice,” she admitted from behind her fingers.
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