The waiting was the worst part.
May tried to swallow but her throat was dry. She fiddled anxiously with her ring. Beside her on her parents’ couch, Em sat stock still. Her fingers gripped the tops of her thighs; the only sign she was feeling the heat pressing down on them.
The living room may as well have been a courtroom, May’s family a jury already prepared to hand down a guilty verdict. They sat around the room, saying nothing but watching the pair squirm through narrowed eyes. The only person who wasn’t scowling was Kai who sat on an armchair, face ashen and staring miserably down at the floor.
Em licked her lips and glanced over to May who only gave the tiniest of imperceptible shrugs in reply.
It was May’s father who started.
“What’s gotten into you, May?” he asked quietly.
May flinched at the disappointment in his voice. She opened and closed her mouth, wanting justify her actions but uncertain of where to start.
“You rope your brother into some ridiculous lie, go to the mainland with someone you hardly know, and you don’t even have the decency to tell your own family where you’re going. What if something had happened to you out there?”
Heat scorched May’s cheeks. Embarrassed and angry, the lecture made her feel like a child again and she hated it.
“If I had told you we were leaving you would have tried to stop us,” she mumbled in reply.
Her mother’s face pinched with rage. She brought her palm down hard onto the top of the bookshelf she was standing next to.
“Of course we would have,” she hissed, eyes flashing dangerously. “People do not leave this island.”
“Which is ridiculous,” May snapped back.
“It is dangerous out there.”
“No, it’s not.”
May and her mother glared at one another venomously. The air was hot, crackling with tension. This defiance was completely unlike May, or, at least unlike the May her family had always known. She felt bolder now, desperate to be heard and understood. She wanted her family to give her the benefit of the doubt for a change.
“It’s amazing out there.” Her tone was a little softer but still insistent. “You wouldn’t believe the things I saw.”
Her mother stalked forward, eyes locked on her daughter like a wild cat stalking its prey.
“I wouldn’t, would I?” she challenged. Her words were sharp. “So, I probably wouldn’t know about the creatures that live out there, hmm? The spirits and the monsters? The magic?”
May faltered, her mouth hanging open. A subtle ringing filled her ears. “What?”
“There’s a reason you won’t find any of that here on Hoku,” her father said, his voice far steadier than his wife’s. “It’s the only place in the world that forbids it. That’s why people came here in the first place and it’s why no one ever leaves – it’s safer here.”
The memory of Dom and his enchanted way with the forest flashed across May’s mind. She didn’t know what was more shocking: this sudden and completely unexpected revelation or the fact that her parents could be so mistaken about what existed beyond their shores.
The world felt like it was beginning to spin faster – or perhaps it was just her, at risk of falling. She wrapped her arms around her body just to feel steady. She glanced at Kai who looked as shocked as she was.
“That’s… No. Why haven’t you ever told us about any of this?”
“Because it never should have mattered,” her mother stormed. “All any of you ever needed to know what that we were safe here. And this -” she gestured around in a way that seemed to encompass everything. “Was supposed to be enough. It was enough for you, May.”
Numb, May considered what her mother was saying. Had it been enough?
“It’s her, isn’t it?” Her mother flicked a hand in Em’s direction, acknowledging her for the first time since they had come into the house.
“Hey- ” Em started, leaning forward defensively. May held her down with a firm hand on her forearm.
“Kane had to go to the hospital,” Ora snapped from where she stood fuming in the corner. “Broken nose, shattered cheekbone. Did you know that, May? Or were you too caught up with your mainland girlfriend to care?”
“He got what he deserved,” Em growled through tightly clenched teeth. “If you had heard-”
Ora wasn’t listening. She started her sister down, her gaze icy.
“Do you have any idea what people are saying?” she asked. “The whole town can’t shut up about how you ran off with the mainland woman who attacked Kane. They’re having a field day with it and now we’re all right back where we started.”
May thought she was going to be sick. Less than an hour ago her biggest worry had been how she and Em would manage to evade the Loyals. Suddenly the question of whether or not Em would stay felt like a dream. This was her reality – it always had been. How could she have gotten so caught up that she completely forgot what she would be walking back into when they returned to the island?
Em jumped to her feet, May watching her in horror. Everything was falling apart.
“You seem a lot more concerned with what this fucking town is saying about your sister than you are with her,” Em snarled.
“Emmy, don’t.” May tried in vain to pull her back from the confrontation.
Ora balked but her mother stepped in.
“Our entire family has been dealing with what this town thinks about May for years,” she shouted, getting right into Em’s space. “And we have all made sacrifices to keep her safe and give her a life worth living here.”
May scrambled up off the couch. “Mama, please-”
“You call having to wait patiently while everyone else decides she’s done her time for some imaginary crime a life worth living?” Em cried. May tugged desperately at her arm, repeating her name, trying to get her to stop, but Em was too incensed. “You’re her family, you’re supposed to have her back, not make her feel worse.”
“Em, stop!” May tried to plant herself between Em and her mother but they came at each other around her like a pair of snapping dogs.
“We have always been in her corner,” her mother raged.
“Really?” Electricity began to sizzle beneath Em’s skin. “Because it seems to me if you loved her-”
The loud slap of flesh meeting flesh punctuated the argument. Everyone in the room gasped before falling into frozen, horrified silence. May’s mother stood shaking, her open hand still raised in the end of its swing. Wide-eyed with shock, Em clutched at her cheek where the woman had struck her.
“We may not have always made the best choices,” the woman’s voice trembled as she spoke, each word clipped and deliberate. “But don’t you ever, ever question our family’s love for one another. Don’t you dare try to tell me I don’t love my daughter.”
A wounded cry stole everyone’s attention. Omi stood in the mouth of the hallway, wailing in his disheveled PJs and slippered feet.
“Oh, buddy. You’re supposed to be asleep,” fussed Grey. He reached for his son just as the boy darted across the floor toward May who scooped him up and held him tight.
“Why is everyone fighting?” He sobbed, pressing his wet little face into his aunt’s neck. She bounced him the way she had when he was a baby, shushing softly and turning away from everyone else. An awkward and uncomfortable silence hovered like a layer of fog.
Looking down at the little bundle that was her nephew, May wondered what kind of person he saw when he looked at her; who any of them saw when they looked at her. She loved them – oh, how she loved them – but did they really know her at all? Had she even known herself before now? She imagined going back to this; just her and her nephew, day in and day out. She thought about what lay ahead for her; the gossip and whispers and dirty looks.
Could she go back to it, knowing what she knew now?
Or would she have been better off if nothing had ever changed; if she had never found Em asleep on that beach?
May nuzzled her face into Omi’s hair and took a long, deep breath in.
“I’m done,” she announced to everyone, including herself. “I’m done.”
Banner art by @flowerveil