The Star and the Ocean: Chapter Thirty-Five

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Audrey stormed into the room and slammed the door behind her. She paced, trying to ebb the mix of panic and rage that threatened to undo her.

The door opened. She cursed under her breath.

“I do not want to see you right now,” she shouted, whirling around on the intruder.

Jeremy – her dearest friend of so many years – froze in his approach, shock and fear written across his pained face.

“Aud, please,” he said, reaching out to her carefully. His voice was thick with desperation. “It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this.”

Audrey charged up to him, planting herself imposingly in his face. “What wasn’t supposed to turn out like this, Jeremy? You lied to me.”

“I didn’t lie,” he replied. “I just didn’t tell you the whole truth.”

“NO!” Audrey was screaming now. She was sure the other guests at the small inn could hear every word through the thin walls of their room, but she was too angry to care. “You said this trip was a vacation – we were just getting away from it all for a bit. You said the Loyals approved it! I should have fucking known they’d never let us just leave like this. Shit!”

She paused in her ranting and stared at him hard. He didn’t try to defend himself this time.

“I don’t know what’s worse,” she spat. “That you lied to me about this or that you left Connor behind to deal with this mess on his own.”

“He had the chance to come,” Jeremy said, fighting to keep his voice steady. “He chose to stay behind.”

“Great,” Audrey sneered. “Thanks for giving me the same chance to stay out of trouble.”

She stomped to the window, trying to get as far away from Jeremy as their small room would allow. He groaned miserably, digging his clenched fists into his temples in frustration.

“Audrey, if I had told you what we doing you wouldn’t have come. Priva did some digging and she found someone who can remove the devices. We just had to be careful about getting to him so we wouldn’t raise suspicion.”

“You’re an idiot,” Audrey said. In all their years together, she had never been so harsh with him. “You can’t possibly think the Loyals wouldn’t realize what we had done. They’d lose their data, their tracking… Everything about the treaty would be-”

She stopped. Turning slowly, she looked at Jeremy, her eyes fresh with newfound clarity.

“That’s why Connor didn’t want to come,” she whispered. “You want to blow up the treaty.”

Jeremy’s eyes narrowed. “So what if I do? Is this really how you want to live the rest of your life, Audrey? A lab rat under constant surveillance?”

The moment paused. The world around the pair glitched. For a brief few seconds, Em’s consciousness was able to break through and take stock of the memory she found herself reliving.

Ah, she mused. The beginning of the end. Interesting choice.

Reality glitched again and Audrey was back in control.

She stepped menacingly back into Jeremy’s personal space, challenging him with her presence.

“I think the question you should be asking yourself is whether or not this is how you want to die. Because I know my answer to that one. Do you?”

Another glitch. Em was getting stronger.

She was onto something, Jay. You should have listened to her.

The room went dark. The inn and everything around them faded into darkness until all that remained was Em and Jeremy, staring one another down.

This is new, Em thought uneasily.

“You’re alive,” Jeremy seethed, his expression as dark as the void that surrounded them. “You’re back and you haven’t even tried to find me.”

What? A primal fear took hold of Em deep inside. She pulled back, fighting against the blackness.

“Losing you was one of the worst things that ever happened to us, to me,” he shouted, his voice echoing. “How can you just move on and leave us behind?”

This wasn’t part of Audrey’s memory. Jeremy had never said these things. He didn’t know that she was Em now.

No. Em closed her eyes to block him out. You don’t understand. I’m not her… I can’t…

She felt a flickering, the sound of the ocean and smell of salt water filled her senses for just a fleeting moment.

This isn’t real, she reminded herself. I need to get back.

While the spectre of Jeremy continued to scream, assaulting her with everything she had left to feel guilty about, Em tried to focus on the beach. The Party. May.

Bit by bit she dragged her mind through the darkness until Jeremy’s voice was drowned out by waves and her own slow, calming breaths.

Footsteps made their way across the deck. Guilt of a new kind washed through her. She must have been gone so long May had come looking for her. Em continued to breathe, determined to be as present as possible by the time May reached her.

May, Em thought, her mind struggling to stay in one place. I’m sorry. I’m trying so hard.

The footsteps stopped just behind her, standing close. Em felt lips move in close against her ear. Her nerves were on fire. It was hard to read May’s energy.

An unfamiliar, musky scent filled the air. Em’s eyes snapped open.

The stranger spoke, the sound of a smiling, masculine voice filling her ear.

“Well?” he asked. “Have you fucked her yet?”

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