The drama was subtle. It was easy to miss the stolen glances at May each time a person realized Kane was in the room. The way conversations became hushed, bodies shifted – the signs were all there.
And yet, it was the way Kane acted as if nothing was amiss that unnerved Em the most. It was like he didn’t realize May was sitting almost directly across the table from him; she might as well have been invisible.
But Em could see her – the way her chest rose and fell with each shallow, rapid breath. May’s shoulders were tense, and the threat of tears made her deep blue eyes swim. It broke Em’s heart to see her so looking so vulnerable, so afraid.
“I can’t stay here,” May breathed, her mouth hardly moving. “This can’t be happening.”
Em glanced around, but the time for a stealthy retreat had passed. Their seats backed up against a wall with guests flanking them on either side. Anoki stood to address the party and the girls shared a defeated look. Em felt helpless, unable to even reach out and offer May so much as a comforting touch. She settled for gently pressing the side of her foot into May’s and hoped that would be enough for now.
As Mr. Anoki thanked the crowd for lending their talents and passion to the spring showcase, Em kept her eyes locked on Kane. He was, without question, a good looking man, with strong features and neatly buzzed hair kept stylishly short. His eyes were deceptively soft, and when he smiled they did too. Even from a distance, Em understood how people might easily succumb to his charms, yet all she felt was malice.
With the speech finished, food was delivered to the table. Platters loaded with expertly prepared gourmet dishes were set before the guests, who ooh’d and ahh’d appropriately. Conversation blossomed again, lively and loud. Em’s stomach turned as she watched people joke and laugh with Kane as if the woman whose life he ruined wasn’t sitting right there, shrinking into herself out of sheer mortification.
How can they act like everything is fine? Em wondered, incensed.
She turned her head ever so slightly, trying to check on May as covertly as possible, when she felt the world around her shift violently. The familiar, horrible sensation – like being slammed by a powerful gale – stole her breath away and made her gasp.
“Are you okay?” May whispered, shooting Em a concerned glance.
Em gave a small nod and what she hoped was a convincing smile. “Nevermind me. How are you holding up?”
A stupid question, she knew. May drew in a shaky breath and looked quickly at Kane. He still hadn’t even so much as turned his face in their direction.
“I just want to get out of here,” she replied, picking at her food with a trembling fork. “But I don’t know how to leave without drawing attention.”
All Em wanted to do was touch her – take her hand, hold her close, anything. She tried to focus on a calming sensation, manifesting the energy between them and pushing it in May’s direction. Not that she was particularly skilled at manipulating another person’s energy like this, but Em was willing to give it a shot if it could help.
“I’m so sorry, May,” she muttered. “We’ll sneak out as soon as dinner is over.”
The girl from earlier asked May to pass the wine, and the exchange got the two of them talking again. Em was immediately grateful for the distraction, for it came just as she felt the world lurch once more.
No one else reacted. Em knew they wouldn’t. Their realities weren’t shifting, pulling threateningly at the edges. Just hers.
Not now, she thought. Not here.
This was how it always started. Quick jolts, like shots from invisible fists, would jar her perception; make her feel like she was stumbling. Then came a searing sensation from somewhere deep inside. It would work its way up her back to her shoulders and then, at last, into her head where it felt as if angry dogs were fighting viciously over what they found in there.
The surface of her skin began to prickle as though she had just been electrocuted. The sounds of the world around her became muddled by the soundtrack of memories from another life reverberating in her ears like stereo feedback. Em was losing her grip and there wasn’t a thing she could do to control it. All she could do was anticipate the next phase and try her best to be prepared.
She looked to May is desperation. If only she could pull her close. It was getting hard to breathe.
But May was oblivious, focused intently on being nonchalant in her conversation. Her body was still stiff with discomfort. Em could see the minutia of it in the way she held herself. She could sense the way it mixed and swirled with everything else she could sense all at once.
Em’s hand inched toward May. Her life raft. She was right there. All Em had to do was reach out and let her pull her to safety…
But, no. The evening was distressing enough already. Em kept her hands to herself.
She looked out a dark window. Her vision dragged as if she’d had too much to drink. If she could just get outside, to the ocean, maybe she could find some relief.
“I’m going to find the bathroom,” Em informed May, interrupting her conversation. She hoped beyond hope her voice didn’t sound as strained to anyone else as it did to herself. “Will you be alright?” This she asked more quietly.
May focused in on Em’s eyes. She could tell something was amiss.
Em didn’t trust herself to speak. She forced a smile and moved on quickly before May could ask again. Mr. Anoki pointed her down a hallway. As soon as she was out of sight, Em took a rogue turn, pushing her way out the back door and into the night.
A salty breeze hit like a slap to the face. She inhaled it deeply. Carefully, Em made her way to the railing of the deck that wrapped around the full circumference of Anoki’s stately home. Hand over hand, she guided herself slowly until she faced the ocean.
Her mind snapped back and forth. Darkness crept along the edges of her vision as it flickered in and out of focus. Once or twice in those brief glimpses of clarity she saw things that weren’t really there.
“Why is this happening now?” Em groaned into the night air.
Squinting, she looked at the waves rolling in the moonlight. She wanted to go to them. It was going to ruin the entire night but she was too desperate now. She needed to submerge herself beneath the surf; she needed relief.
Taking a deep breath, Em thought of May. She thought of her sitting there alone at that table across from the person who had taken everything from her. Em didn’t want to abandon her now, even if every fiber of her being ached for stillness and quiet the way an addict longs for a fix. She gave her head a shake and tried to clear her mind.
The motion sent her perspective careening again. Her knees buckled against the vertigo.
Clenching her eyes shut, she focused on her breath as the noise in her mind became deafening.
Her mind grew hazy, her thoughts an incoherent jumble of memories and identities battling for supremacy until all at once everything went black and she felt nothing at all.
The next time she opened her eyes, she wouldn’t have been able to tell you who Em was.
Her name was Audrey, and she was furious.
Banner art by @blushmallet