“Kai, NO!” May cried, leaping up from the hammock just in time to plant herself between her brother and Em.
Kai took her by the shoulders, concern etched across his brow. “Did she hurt you, May?”
“You can tell me,” he pressed, shooting a murderous look at Em over May’s shoulder. “How did you get that bruise?”
The idea of giving her brother an honest answer to that question made May feel sick to her stomach, but she knew he wasn’t the type to back down. “For goodness sake, Kai! It’s a hickie, alright?”
A heavy air of awkwardness settled between the trio. Kai’s face fell as he looked between his sister and Em and back again.
“A…” Slowly he released his hold on May’s shoulders. “Oh, for fucks sake! Are you serious, May? You told mama and papa that’s not what this was about!” He kept his eyes firmly locked on his sister as he gestured wildly at Em.
May looked deflated. “Well, it wasn’t then. But…” She turned to look helplessly at Em, who stepped forward and wordlessly took her hand.
Kai groaned and buried his face in his massive palms. “Maybe, you know I love you and if this…” He raised his face to give a pointed look at Em, who was starting to squirm at being spoken about as if she couldn’t understand what was being said, “If this is who you are, then fine. But is this really the right time? Things were just starting to turn around for you.”
“When is it ever going to be the ‘right time’, Kai?” May asked sharply, her eyes narrowing. “What am I supposed to do? Just wait for everyone to change their minds about me? Is that what needs to happen before I’m allowed to be happy?”
“That’s not what I meant,” Kai grumbled. “What about the rest of the family? You’re not the only one who had to deal with what happened.”
May let out a strangled, incredulous noise, but it was Em who cut in.
“Okay, I’m going to stop you right there.”
“No, you’re not.” Kai stared her down. “This is between family.”
“Right,” she barreled onward, emboldened. “This is you implying that a member of your family – someone I think you care very much about, I might add – should hide who she is and deny herself a chance at being happy just so other people don’t have to feel uncomfortable.”
“It’s not that simple,” he huffed, heat rising behind the rich bronze of his cheeks.
“I’m sure in a lot of ways it isn’t.” She wrapped an arm protectively around May’s shoulder. “But at the same time, it is.”
Kai crossed his arms and eyed the two of them quietly for a moment. He mulled over what Em had said thoughtfully, carefully considering his next move. But May gave a small, hopeful smile and Kai knew it didn’t matter how much he wanted to act stern with her – he wanted to see her happy.
“Please, Kai,” she said softly. “Try to understand.”
“Oh, I doubt I’ll ever really understand,” Kai rubbed his chin absentmindedly. “But if you say you’re happy then you know I’m going to have your back.”
May beamed and opened her mouth to speak, but before she could, Kai continued. “Are you sure you’re ready for how people are going to react, though?”
“Ready?” May replied. “Kai, it’s not like people stopped believing it in the first place. If anything it would just confirm what they’re all still whispering about. Pretending to be something I’m not hasn’t done much to sway public opinion, has it?”
Sighing, Kai didn’t bother to reply. She was right and they both knew it. Instead, he looked to Em.
“And you,” he growled, pointing at her for emphasis. “I don’t care if you’re a chick. If you fuck with my sister I will hunt you down.”
Em frowned and calmly pushed his finger out of her face. “You can ease up on the protective brother bit. I’m not here to mess with May. Of course, if you were implying something else then I-”
“Okay!” May stepped in. “That’s enough, you two. Emmy, please don’t push our luck. And, Kai… Are we good?”
Kai groaned again, dropping into the old folding chair in defeat. “Sure, May. We’re good. Although you’re totally going to have to cover that thing up when you look after Omi tomorrow. Ora would lose her damn mind if she saw it and you know she’ll tell mama.”
May flushed and covered the bruise with her hand as if it would somehow help.
Em eased into the hammock, rocking on her heels and staring off into nothing. For a moment no one spoke. The silence made May antsy.
“So,” she ventured. “Did you just come out to visit or did you need something?”
“Oh, right.” Kai smiled at last, running a hand through his unkempt hair. “The Rocket’s been running a little funny lately. I was hoping you could take a look at it with me. I feel like there’s something I’m not seeing.”
Em raised an eyebrow. “The Rocket?”
“His van,” May explained.
Em did a visible double-take. “You know how to fix engines and stuff?”
“Sister, she knows how to do everything,” Kai grinned at the dumbfounded look on Em’s face.Turning his attention back to May, he added, “But if you have to dance today we can do it some other time.”
May waved him off. “It’s okay, the concert is wrapped up now.”
“Is Anoki throwing another one of his fancy parties then?” Kai asked. “You gonna go?”
“Oh, shoot!” May jolted. “I completely forgot!” She hustled inside.
Once she was out of earshot, Em leaned forward and whispered. “Does she really know how to fix cars? How does know how to do things like build conveyance systems and design houses and stuff?”
“She picks up on things super fast. Always has. She’s a genius or something. It’s almost freaky sometimes.”
Before Em could reply, May rushed back out onto the deck clutching an envelope in her hand.
“The gala’s next weekend.” She handed the invitation to Em. “But I’ll be honest; I haven’t given it a lot of thought.”
“You should go, May,” Kai insisted. “Everyone in town is talking about what a good job you did. Go capitalize on all this good mojo for a change! You deserve it.”
May lit up. Until this moment she hadn’t been sure if showing up at the gala would have been a smart move. But with her brother’s encouragement she finally felt it was safe to entertain the idea. The very thought of it made her giddy.
She glanced back to Em who had just finished reading the invitation.
“Would you like to come with me?” she asked quietly, suddenly sheepish at the idea of asking Em on what was essentially a date.
“If you’re going to let the world know you two are a thing I can’t think of a better place to make it official,” Kai jibed.
Em could tell he was taking a swing at them, probably more out of concern for his sister than anything else. But Em didn’t care. Turning her attention back to May, she smiled brightly.
“It would be my pleasure.”
Banner art by @blushmallet