Without a word, the figure stepped forward, reaching out a thin-fingered hand to gently ease May back. So resigned was she to her own futile efforts, May wasn’t surprised when she felt herself lifted upward, as if she had been picked up around her middle, and placed softly one pace to her right.
The figure knelt next to Em and, despite her growling protests, placed their hand along her cheek.
“That’s enough.” They spoke in a lilting voice. “It’s time to rest.” With an almost imperceptible transfer of light from their palm to her face, Em’s eyes rolled back in sleep.
Only the rolling of the ocean filled the space between May and the figure. She was afraid to draw attention to herself. May watched the figure gaze sadly down at Em, fingers twitching just above her face and hair as if they couldn’t quite will themself to touch her again.
“You were doing so well,” they muttered.
A pair of heavy-lidded golden eyes slid up to meet May’s. Her breath caught in her throat.
“Do you know who I am?” the figure asked quietly in a melodic voice that made May shiver.
“I think so,” she replied, a tremble in her words. “But I don’t know what to call you.”
The figure considered this for a moment before nodding slowly. “Your human tongue can’t pronounce my true name, but Astrid called me Welkin. It’s withstood the years. You may call me the same.”
May cocked her head, “Who is Astrid?”
Welkin looked back down at Em, their brow furrowing ever so slightly.
“Her birth mother.”
May’s assumption had been correct. Welkin: the Star who had fallen for a human. The Star who had helped bring Em into the world.
She glanced from Em to the Star and back again, concern replacing awe. “Is she going to be okay?”
“She will be,” they replied, fingers tracing lightly through Em’s wet hair and pushing a few stray tresses from her face. “Do not worry; this will pass. She has been steadier since you came along.”
May’s eyes narrowed skeptically; she had no idea what Welkin was talking about. Crawling closer, she took Em’s hand up in hers and held it tightly. She couldn’t begin to compare her feelings for Em to the parental bond Welkin had claim to, but she also wasn’t about to accept the Star’s vague half-answers.
“What do you mean?” she asked as firmly as she could muster.
Welkin tugged the cloak away from their face, revealing gently swooping lines and sharp angles. A long narrow face was home to soulful eyes, with a thin pointed nose and a mouth pulled into a tight crease. Every one of their features were tinged with gold. Androgynous and beautiful, Welkin left May momentarily dazzled.
“She may not be the same person she used to be, but the memories are still there, simmering below the surface,” Welkin explained matter-of-factly. “Sometimes they stir, although it happens less the more she settles into this new life. I only wish it weren’t so upsetting to her. We’re learning as we go. Giving the dead a second chance at life is hardly a perfect science.”
Blood thundered through May’s ears. She felt like she was about to fall, dizzy with dread.
“I don’t understand,” she whispered in a panic.
Welkin’s gaze filled with uncertainty.
“What has she told you?”
May searched her memories frantically, trying to remember anything Em might have told her that lined up with the confusing things Welkin said.
“She said you were friends with her mother,” May replied, speaking fast. “Her mother was sick and wished for a baby and you helped her. She told me she’s half Star and that’s why she can do the things she does. She says she…”
There was something sympathetic in Welkin’s eyes that made her trail off. May realized then they hadn’t been dismissive with her – May was simply in the dark.
“Ah, so she hasn’t told you everything afterall,” The Star’s voice was hushed, their gaze downcast. “Well, come along then. It would seem we have much to discuss.”
May sat, rooted and numb as Welkin gathered Em’s body into their arms, standing effortlessly to make their way back to the tree house. She watched them leave – almost considered staying right where she was – until an involuntary shudder shook her back to mindfulness.
Weakly, May dragged herself to her feet and followed the Star as they carried the woman she thought she knew back into the house.
Banner art by @blushmallet