“I’m done listening to everyone argue because of me,” May said, turning back to her family and to Em. She walked up to her sister feeling numb, her expression blank. With a gentle kiss, she’s handed Omi back to Ora. “I’m going home.”
Her blunt statement took everyone off guard. May was already stepping out the door by the time anyone even thought to move.
“May, wait!” Her mother called after her.
Em broke past the others and followed May out into the early evening air. She hurried down the stairs and grabbed for May’s hand.
“Hey, hang on,” she huffed, pulling May back to face her. “Are you okay?”
Something about May’s expression – or perhaps it was the lack thereof – made Em take a step back.
“Please,” May said, her voice low. “I think I need to be alone right now.”
“Em,” she was begging now. “Please, just… I have a lot to think about.”
May gave Em’s hand a firm squeeze before turning back to the street and walking away. Shaking off her surprise, Em went to follow her when a hand on her shoulder drew her back.
“Let her go.” It was Kai, speaking softly as he watched his sister stride off into the dusk.
“After what just happened in there?” Em shook her head. “Not a chance. I need to-”
“You need to give her some space,” Kai interjected. “She’s not wrong – she does have a lot to think about.”
Em frowned up at him, lips pursed and heart unconvinced. Kai stepped in the opposite direction May was headed and gestured for her to follow. “Come on. I need to talk to you anyway.”
A short walk later found the two of them climbing onto bar stools at a restaurant overlooking the water. Em stared numbly out at the waves while Kai signaled for the bartender.
“I’ve really fucked things up for her, haven’t I?” she mumbled. It didn’t seem to matter which way she looked at it – Em couldn’t help but think of her presence as a colossal interference in May’s life.
Kai shook his head. “Nah. You’ve changed things, yes. But, honestly? It was about time.”
Em peered at him skeptically so he continued.
“May needed something to happen,” he said with a shrug. “You weren’t wrong when you said the life she was living was a joke. But you need to understand, it might look bad but my family really has been trying to make things better for her.”
It took a lot for Em to keep her expression neutral, the lingering sting of the slap she received posing an extra challenge.
“It just seems kind of messed up,” she admitted. “Most of the people in this place treat her like garbage and the moment she starts to take her life into her own hands, her family acts like she’s some little kid who broke the rules. She’s a grown woman and she deserves to have a say over her own happiness.”
Kai groaned, rubbing his eyes and looking incredibly exhausted.
“Em, it’s complicated.”
“Are you planning on demystifying it for me?”
“Well, well. Look who’s back.” Both Em and Kai looked up with surprise. Standing on the other side of the bar, a frosty bottle of beer in each hand, was Lenaia. “I wasn’t sure you were going to come back to be honest.” She gave a curt nod to Kai and put the bottles down, glancing around. “May’s not here, is she?”
“No,” Em shifted, plucking at the label on her beer. “She’s at home. It’s just us tonight.”
“Good,” Lenaia replied. “It’s probably for the best.”
Em and Kai exchanged a puzzled look.
“Why’s that?” Kai asked.
Casting a quick look over her shoulder, Lenaia chewed on her lip and leaned over the bar.
“Kane’s here tonight,” she murmured, pretending she was wiping up a spill. “Over by the back door with one of his goony friends.”
As subtly as she could, Em stretched and scanned the restaurant. Sure enough, Kane was hunched at a table on the other side of the room with a friend that dwarfed him in size. Her efforts were wasted though – when her eyes landed on Kane she was startled to find he was already glaring directly at her. She looked away, but even in that quick glance she could see hints of the damage she had done to his face.
“Don’t worry,” Lenaia assured her, catching the worry in Em’s features. “He won’t cause a scene in here. But I’d watch my back if I were you. He’s still pissed.”
“Just my fucking luck,” Em groaned as Lenaia hustled away to take care of another customer. Kai gave her a sympathetic look.
“Personally, I’m glad you let him have it,” he said.
She grimaced. “Yeah, just add it to my growing list of accomplishments,” she replied. With a heavy hand she threw back a long swig of her beer. “Anyway, you were about to explain the intricate mysteries of your family dynamic.”
Kai nodded, sipping at his beer with a far off look in his eye.
“Has May ever told you anything about her parents? Her biological parents, I mean.”
The question brought Em back to that first night. Her and May and a bottle of wine on the couch. Her heart clenched at the memory.
“Just a bit,” she said. “Something about them visiting the island and becoming friends with your parents. They were in some kind of trouble and didn’t want to drag May into it.”
Kai scoffed under his breath. “I’ll say.”
Em raised her eyebrows quizzically.
“Did she tell you about the group of mainlanders that ransacked Hoku?” Kai asked.
“They were looking for something, weren’t they?”
Frowning, Kai looked over at her. “Yeah, they were looking for May’s parents.”
Em nearly choked on her beer, coughing on her most recent sip.
“Why? What did they do?”
Kai shrugged. “Don’t know, but it must have been bad. They were messed up with some pretty dangerous people.”
Em pursed her lips; she knew what that was like.
“But May’s mom was pregnant and wanted to keep the baby safe,” Kai continued. “Ma and Pa helped keep them both hidden until May was born and took her in. You can probably imagine how much that pissed people around here off. Those strangers did a lot of harm. For people who remember, May is just a reminder of a really awful time. And for the rest of us…” he smiled sadly. “Well, hate’s an easy thing to learn second hand.”
Sitting back in her seat, Em crossed her arms and exhaled.
“Fuck,” she muttered. Kai made a vague noise in agreement.
“My parents raised May like one of their own even when everyone else said they should have just handed her over too. They’ve literally spent her entire life trying to do right by her, and it hasn’t been easy.”
“No,” Em said with a shake of her head. “I guess not.”
Kai watched her stew for a minute, letting her mull over everything he had told her.
“It might not always look like it, but all any of us want is what’s best for her,” he said finally, his voice so quiet she almost didn’t hear him. “Even if that turns out to be you.”
Em started, turning to him in surprise. “Me?”
“Well, yeah,” he said with a laugh. “I mean, you do love her, don’t you?”
Kai’s question hit Em like ice water to the face.
Banner art by @flowerveil