Em and May looked across the beach to find Kai and their parents standing by his van, shock and horror written all over their faces. Theirs had been the other voices that cried out at the sight of Kane being thrown from the treehouse. Em’s heart fell at the sight of her pack, the strap clutched in Kai’s white-knuckled fist. She had completely forgotten.
“Get away from her!” May’s mother cried, stumbling across the sand to her daughter.
“Wait!” Em gasped, reaching out just as she pulled May to her feet and away.
“Are you alright?” May’s mother fussed, brushing May’s hair from her face and looking for any sign of trauma. “Did she hurt you?”
May tried to pull away. “Mama, no. She was trying to protect me.”
Her father rushed over and planted himself between his family and Em who was shakily trying to stand.
“What are you?” Kai asked, awestruck.
Before Em could answer a blinding flash struck the sand between them, floating light forming a glowing silhouette. The moment their feet hit the ground, the Star made straight for Em, scattering residual starlight like glitter caught in the wind.
“Emanthy, what happened?” they asked, pulling her off the ground and into a tight embrace. “Are you hurt?”
Em buried her face in Welkin’s cloak and shook her head, clinging to them.
“I’m sorry!” she wailed, voice muffled. “I couldn’t stop myself.”
A look of fear – so brief and minute – flashed across Welkin’s face. They held Em close and still, careful not to let her see.
“What did you do, Emanthy?”
“I hurt him.” Her words were quiet and ashamed. “Kane. He went after May and I lost control and I…” she dissolved into a fresh wave of tears.
Welkin’s golden eyes flicked upwards, toward the night sky. They said nothing, but they didn’t have to; the distraught look said everything. There was trouble churning somewhere up above.
“I should have known,” May’s mother growled. Everyone turned to her in surprise, save for Welkin who only looked at her with resignation. “I knew there was something wrong with that girl the moment I laid eyes on her. I should have known she had something to do with your kind.”
“Does a promise not mean anything to you?” Her husband shouted, brandishing his finger in Welkin’s direction like a weapon. “You aren’t supposed to be here!”
“I know,” Welkin admitted, holding a hand out like a peace offering. “But, please understand – she is my daughter and she is in danger. I needed a place where she could be safe. What better place than one without magic?”
There was an exchange of puzzled glances between May’s parents before her father found his voice and shot back. “You put our family – our entire island – at risk to save your kin? How very considerate of you.”
Welkin cringed with guilt.
“How does a Star come to have a daughter anyway?” May’s mother balked, suspicious for certain but with a hint of genuine curiosity.
May gaped, staring at her parents with her mouth hanging with shock.
“What is going on?” May demanded, looking between her parents and the Star. “How do you know each other? And how do you two know about the Stars?”
Her mother pulled her in closer and glared at Welkin dangerously.
“You need to leave,” she said. “Both of you. Now.”
“Wait,” Em gasped, snapping out of her pitiful daze. “I can’t leave.”
She tried to step forward, reaching out for May but Welkin held her back.
“She’s right, Emanthy,” Welkin said, their voice tight with regret. “I’m sorry but we have to go.”
May was gripped with panic, her breath hitching at the realization of what Welkin was saying.
“No.” She struggled against her mother’s grip. “Wait, no you can’t-”
A sound at a pitch so high it was barely audible split the sky. While May and her family glanced around for the source, Em and Welkin gasped and flinched, both looking fearfully up at the sky. May was reminded of the night she had found Em ‘listening’ to the Stars and realized that there was something the two were hearing that the rest of them weren’t privy to.
“I’m truly sorry, girls,” Welkin agonized. Usually so dauntless, it was uncharacteristic for the Star to show so much desperate emotion. May couldn’t help but be disturbed by it. “But we’re out of time. We’ll figure something out, Emanthy but for now we need to go!”
May met Em’s frantic gaze, certain that their hearts were racing in tandem. With a quick and violent pull, Em rushed forward and out of Welkin’s grasp. May followed her lead, wrenching herself away from her mother’s fingers and stumbling toward Em.
The met in the middle and clung to one another as though their lives depended on never letting go.
“Don’t go,” May gasped, wrapping her arms around Em. The fear of what she had witnessed minutes ago, the troubling question of whether she could dare leave the island again – it had all faded like a dream in the first blinking moments of wakefulness. All May knew now was that she was in danger of losing Em for reasons she didn’t even completely understand, and that was all she needed to realize exactly what she wanted.
It took great effort for Em to pry May back far enough to look her in the eye. They each held their breath, searching for the right thing to say among so many things still left unsaid.
“You can’t go,” May sobbed, tears obscuring her vision. “We’re us.”
A soft and devastated sound escaped Em’s throat. Unable to speak, she pressed her lips to May’s and kissed her.
All around them a brightness encroached. When it touched Em, she began to glow. Her light grew steadily and she became weightless in May’s arms, tugged slowly backwards gently by an invisible force.
Welkin was nothing more than a glowing mass rising above the beach, their essence pulling Em up to join them.
“Em, no!” May cried, her grasp on Em giving way. “Please!”
Everything was so bright. Em opened her mouth, began to call something out to May when suddenly the world was engulfed in a blinding whiteness.
When night returned to the beach, May and her family stood stunned and alone.
Em and Welkin were gone.
Banner art by @flowerveil