The Star and the Ocean: Chapter Thirty-Eight

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[Content Warning: Sexual content. To read the SFW version of this chapter, visit Wattpad]

It would take three nights to reach the mainland. May spent the majority of the first day at sea waffling back and forth between disbelief and worry.

As the wind whipped around her petite frame, she clutched at the handrail of the deck and watched Hoku disappeared into the distance.

“I can’t believe this,” she whispered in awe. “I actually left Hoku. I’ve never been this far from home before.”

Em smiled at her. “I’m proud of you, Maybe. This is going to be amazing. You’re going to love it.”

A handful of hours later, May’s enthusiasm waned as the ship docked briefly to pick up more passengers. She eyed the shoreline as she twisted her fingers into knots.

“What have I done?” she moaned. “I can’t do this. I’ve never been anywhere before. Maybe we should just get off here and wait for the next-”

“Hey, look at me,” Em interrupted, taking her gently by the shoulders. “You’re not going to be doing this alone. Besides, you are so much more capable than you give yourself credit for. Just try to relax.”

Taking a few deep breaths, May nodded. Em looked at her, an inscrutable expression on her face.

“You’re hard to pin down sometimes, you know that?” She laughed softly.

May flinched. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Em cocked her head and thought carefully before answering

“Sometimes it seems like you’re totally ready to throw yourself into the unknown,” she replied. “Like you can’t wait to leave all the bullshit behind and do your own thing. But other times it’s like all you want to do is maintain the status quo and do as you’re told. It’s like you haven’t quite decided what you really want yet.”

“Is that bad thing?” May couldn’t fight the discomfort of being dissected this way.

Em’s eyes searched May’s face as if there was a secret to be found somewhere in between her furrowed brows and uneasy stare.

“No, I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” Em conceded, reaching up to brush some billowing curls from May’s face. Her fingers lingered, making May shiver involuntarily. “But I’ll bet it’s exhausting.”

***

When she woke the following morning, May found her anxiety had faded with the islands.  A revitalized sense of adventure had flourished in its place.

She spent the day dragging Em around the ship, driven by her natural curiosity to explore every accessible nook and cranny – and maybe one or two that were technically off limits. Surrounded as they were by strangers, May chatted happily with anyone who would give her the time of day. Finally out from beneath the haunting cloud of her past, May seemed to blossom before Em’s eyes.

By evening, May had virtually forgotten whatever she had been worried about in the first place. She embraced her newfound freedom and turned her attentions to Em accordingly.

As the sun began to set, the pair strolled the decks aimlessly hand-in-hand; a luxury that thrilled them both. Something about not having to hide or be concerned with what anyone thought stirred up playful excitement in May. She flirted and teased, working a rise out of Em with stolen kisses and lust-drunk whispers. It took no time at all for Em to cave. She steered May back to the privacy of their quarters and pushed her against the wall before the door had even clicked shut behind them.

With fingers curled gently around the base of May’s throat, Em’s other hand slid beneath the hem of her skirt. Their kisses were rough and demanding. Em sought out the warmth between May’s legs, pushed her fingers inside and fucked her hard and fast right where they stood. She savored every moan and gasp that escaped May’s lips, craving her lover’s pleasure like water on a hot day and drinking it in just as eagerly.

It wasn’t until later, when the pair laid naked and exhausted in bed, that May noticed Em’s earlier vibrancy had been replaced by sullen brooding. She ran her hand back and forth along the smooth rise of Em’s hip and watched her closely, her heart constricted with concern.

“Is everything okay?” she asked. “You seem a little distracted all of a sudden.”

Em’s eyes, which had been focused on the dark sky beyond their lone porthole, flitted back to May.

“Sorry,” she murmured. She kissed May’s forehead, but her attention was undoubtedly elsewhere.

“You can talk to me, you know,” May whispered softly, planting her own kiss on Em’s cheek.

Frowning, Em considered the offer for a moment before letting out a deep sigh.

“Do you think it makes me a terrible person that I have no interest in finding Audrey’s friends?”

May was taken aback.

“Where did that come from?” She couldn’t help but laugh.

Em’s expression remained serious. “Sometimes, when my mind slips and I lose sense of who I am, I relive some of Audrey’s old memories. That’s what was happening on the night of the gala, except this time it was different.”

May’s smiled vanished. “Different how?”

“The ending changed,” Em said. “The friend in the memory called her – me – out for being alive and not trying to find them.”

“Why would that happen?” May’s stomach twisted.

Em shrugged.

“I have no idea,” she admitted. “It’s never happened before. But I’ve been thinking about it ever since.”

While things had been admittedly chaotic since the gala, this was the second time May had failed to notice when something was bothering Em. She berated herself privately, wondering why she was so bad at recognizing need from someone she cared about.

“What do you mean when you say you have no interest in finding Audrey’s friends?” May asked, swallowing down the anxiety that rose like bile in her throat.

Em shifted uncomfortably. “I mean exactly that. I have Audrey’s memories and I know these people meant everything to her. But to me…” she paused, choosing her words thoughtfully. “They don’t mean anything to me. They may as well be complete strangers.” She looked into May’s eyes, her own heavy with sadness. “Pretty awful, huh?”

“I think you’re being too hard on yourself.” May was having trouble compartmentalizing how to feel about all this – how she might feel if she were in Em’s place. “I wish I knew how to help you through this, but I do know there’s no way I could ever think you’re a terrible person.”

At this, Em chuckled softly.

“Will you tell me about them?” May asked. Aside from Astrid, they had never really spoken much about Audrey’s loved ones. As awkward as May found it, she wondered if perhaps Em needed to get it off her chest. The least she could do was listen.

Em rolled onto her back and spent a quiet moment in contemplation. May started to wonder if she had offended her when Em spoke.

“Not long after Astrid died, Audrey ran away from what was left of her family. When she refused to go back, Welkin led her instead to a guy named Connor. He was one of the people who had been born because of the wishing star. He was in a lot of danger from the Loyals.”

“Who are the Loyals?” May whispered.

“They’re the people who stayed loyal to the Stars after the wishing star was found,” Em answered, unphased by the interruption. “The ones who wanted to return it right away.”

Of course, May thought with a shudder. The same people who killed Audrey.

“Audrey was able to help Connor escape,” Em continued. “Together they realized that, even though they weren’t exactly the same, they had more in common with one another than they did with anyone else. They started trying to find other Wishes – people like Connor – before the Loyals could get their hands on them. By the end their crusade morphed into a bit of a ragtag family of outcasts – another Wish named Jeremy; Rue, who was a Loyal defector; and Priva…” she trailed off.

“By the end…” May echoed. Her mind was reeling; it seemed as though the more she learned about Em’s past, the more mythical she became. Not for the first time, May found herself wondering what business an unremarkable mess like herself had running around with a daring and adventurous half-Star like Em.

Beside her, Em shifted to face May again. Nightfall had settled in, making it impossible to read her expression.

“Even if I did still care enough to find them, it’s not a way of life I want to go back to.” Her voice sounded strained.

May couldn’t fathom how to reply to that, so she hummed noncommittally instead. Her mind burned, preoccupied with possibilities and truths she hadn’t realized existed before this moment. She remembered the way Em had begged her to keep her magic a secret and suddenly it made sense why. Could she still be in danger? And with so much history between them, could it really be possible for Em not to have feelings for those from her former life? Or was it all a ruse in the name of self preservation?

Em’s arm circled around May in the darkness and pulled her closer. When they kissed, soft and slow, May could feel a dampness on Em’s cheeks.

Neither one said anything more. Eventually they both drifted off to sleep, clutching each other a bit more desperately than perhaps they realized.

May’s sleep was restless, her dreams haunted by shadowy figures who swept in to steal Em away from her. Sometimes the figures were the Loyals of her imagination – intimidating and ruthless. In other dreams they were Audrey’s friends. May was frightened either way.

In a breathless and panicked interlude between nightmares, May fumbled for Em in the darkness

Though she tried to press it down, one question haunted her like a spectre.

Was Em’s past really something she could run from forever?

[Read Next Chapter]

Banner art by @flowerveil 

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