The Star and the Ocean: Chapter Forty-Three

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Em wasn’t stupid. No good conversation in the history of conversations ever started with the words “we need to talk”.

“May, what’s wrong?” Her mind was scrambling; she was trying to think of what she had done to bring this on. She felt like she was going to be sick.

“Why didn’t you tell me you and Dominic used to be a thing?” May’s words tumbled out like water from a broken dam.

“What?” Em stopped in her tracks. May spun to face her, cheeks flushed and eyes glossy. “Who told-”

“It doesn’t matter who told me,” May snapped. “The question is, why didn’t you?”

Em was dumbstruck. She faltered, searching for words. May turned and continued stomping her warpath in the direction of nowhere in particular.

“You can’t be serious right now,” Em balked, scrambling to catch up to May yet again. “Is this really what you’re upset about?”

“Answer my question, Emanthy.”

Emanthy.

Her full name.

She really was in trouble.

“I didn’t tell you because I didn’t think it mattered!” Em cried. “It didn’t mean anything. He and I are just friends. It was fling.”

It was May who stopped this time, emanating hurt and fury that Em was powerless to stop. She hadn’t intended to start this conversation with a fight, but here they were. May felt the hot sting of tears as they spilled out from her eyes and down her face.

“And what about us?” she spat. “Are we just a fling too?”

“You have gotta be shitting me,” Em groaned. “Seriously, May, where is this coming from? What have I honestly done to make you think that?”

May hated herself for crying. Already the conversation had taken a dangerous detour – as if every little thing that had been bothering her since they left Hoku suddenly refused to remain contained any longer. She drew in ragged breaths and stared Em down.

“Why are we here, Em?” May shouted. “You knew coming back here could be dangerous. The people who literally killed you once already could be looking for you and yet Dom mentions coming back just once and suddenly it was the best idea you ever heard!”

“If I wanted to be with Dom, I would be with him!” Em yelled back. It was the first time she had ever raised her voice at May and it made her feel dirty and small. “And I sure as fuck wouldn’t have dragged you along for the ride.”

This time she was the one to storm off. While May didn’t necessarily try to meet her stride, Em could feel her trailing just behind her.

For a while they both marched on in furious silence. They were too angry to speak, but things were still too unresolved for them to stop. They had made their way to a road that lead down and out of town. A popular trailhead rested at the bottom of the decline and a group of hikers were clustered along the shoulder ahead. Em stopped but May kept going, stubbornly keeping her eyes trained on the road before her.

Em reached out and grabbed her hand. May whirled around; sadness, shock, and rage took turns playing across her face.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve,” Em hissed, dropping May’s hand and keeping her voice low so the hikers wouldn’t hear her. “Do you have any idea how much it hurt having to act like I was just your friend back at the gala? I get that you weren’t ready but, fuck, May. And now here you are acting like I’m the one leading you on?”

May couldn’t hide her surprise. She hadn’t realized Em felt this way.

“I don’t think you’re leading me on, I-”

She stopped. Em wasn’t looking at her anymore. Her eyes had narrowed as she looked over May’s shoulder at the hikers on the side of the road.

“Shit,” she snarled. “We have to break that up.”

May turned to survey the situation. “Break what up?”

Em pointed to a tree above the crowd. Through the branches May could just make out the small, squirming masses of two young bear cubs.

“They’re trying to take pictures of those cubs,” Em grumbled, stomping passed May and making her way down the hill. Sure enough, one woman in particular had gone so far as to stand right at the base of the tree, the camera of her phone trained skywards. She made obnoxious clicking noises with her tongue, trying to get the cubs to look down at her.

“What they clearly don’t realize is mama won’t be far away,” Em said without looking back. “Bears often leave their babies up in trees while they go-”

She froze.

Now she looked back to May, her eyes wide with panic.

“Call it in, May,” she shouted before hovering upwards and shooting toward the crowd.

May blinked in confusion.

“Call what-”

Just then, an enormous bear burst through the brush. With a heartstopping bellow, it raised a massive paw and brought it down upon the woman with the camera before she had time to react. A spray of blood stained the ground; the other hikers screamed and scrambled for the road.

The bear reared up on its hind legs, hundreds of pounds of wild animal drawing up to a terrifying, monstrous height.

May fumbled for her radio, unable to tear her eyes away from the carnage.

Terror was all she knew as she watched Em throw herself down over the fallen woman just as the bear came crashing down again.

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Banner art by @flowerveil

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