There was a great deal of yelling in the van.
“What the fuck was that?” Kai yelped, barely managing to keep the steering wheel steady in his white-knuckled grip. “What just happened back there?”
“I don’t know!” May agonized. Her whole body vibrated anxiously. “I think those were other Stars but…”
But she didn’t know what more to say, so she said nothing.
The rest of the drive to the north shore was quiet and tense. Kai checked the rearview mirror obsessively as he drove. May wanted to tell him to stop, that the Stars they had witnessed weren’t going to come after them like they were in some high speed pursuit. But the truth was she didn’t know that for sure either.
As the docks rolled into view, there was a palpable sense of relief from both of them.
Kai parked the van and ran his hands through his hair. “Holy shit, we made it.” He looked straight-faced at May. “I think this has been the longest day of my life.”
“Tell me about it,” she grumbled, opening the door and peering around before sliding out.
It was late now and she knew she’d have to wait until morning to purchase a ticket. Her heart sank – every minute on the island marked an unknowable expanse in the distance between her and Em. But what other choice did she have? Kai kept close by her side as they walked to the shipping office while May scrounged through the bills she had on hand, double and triple checking that she had enough.
“As long as the price hasn’t changed in the last couple of weeks I should be fine,” she confirmed, tucking the cash safely away. Kai was busy reading a board that listed the fares and schedules for various destinations and didn’t answer right away.
“Uh, Maybe?” He said at last, pointing up to where Mondova was listed with a grimace. “We’ve got a problem.”
She looked up to where he pointed and almost burst into tears. With the last 24 hours feeling more like days, she had forgotten that she and Em had only just arrived back on Hoku that morning. She had also forgotten the ship to the mainland only stopped on the north shore a couple of times each week. It would be three days before she would be able to leave.
“I…” May looked around helplessly. “I guess I’ll have to figure something else out. I’m sure I can find a place to stay until then.” Another wave of misery washed over her as her mind went to Em’s tent, only to remember that it hadn’t been among the things she grabbed during their hasty departure from Tenna.
“Don’t be dumb, May,” Kai scolded, putting an arm over her shoulder and steering her back towards the van. “I’m not going to leave you up here on your own. We can sleep in the van and figure everything out in the morning. I’ll even let you have the back seat, I don’t mind crashing in the driver’s seat. Wouldn’t be the first time.”
May stopped, lip quivering, and looked up at her brother through glassy eyes.
“Oh no,” he said, taking a step back. “Don’t you start that now.”
But how could she not? The tears came fast and without shame. She threw her arms around him and sobbed into his shoulder. Kai sighed and hugged her back.
“You’ve done so much for me,” she blubbered. “I don’t know what I did to deserve all this but thank you. Thank you so much.”
“You’re family, Maybe,” he replied, smiling down at her. “And I told you I’ve always got your back.”
They left the van windows open a crack to let in the fresh air and the sound of waves breaking on the shore. May rummaged through the pack and found something for Kai to snack on and one of Em’s sweatshirts for herself. While Kai ripped into the bag of trail mix, she pulled up the hood and breathed in the scent of Em that still lingered in the fibers. It was the closest thing she was going to get to feeling Em on her skin for a while and she savoured it.
Stretching out across the seats, May watched her brother as he ate, gazing absentmindedly out the window.
“Will you tell them I’m sorry?” she asked.
“Mama and Papa. Ora, Omi – will you tell them?”
“You have nothing to be sorry about, Maybe. You’re just doing what you’ve got to do.” Kai wriggled around in his seat until he was facing her as best he could. “It might take a bit of time but they’ll figure it out. We all love you, this won’t change that.”
May pursed her lips and stared up at the ceiling, willing herself not to cry. She didn’t trust herself to speak so she simply nodded instead.
Kai fell asleep easily enough, draped back across his reclined seat as though it were a hammock. May wasn’t sure how long she lay there, eyes closed, listening to her brother’s peaceful breathing and yet completely awake. She couldn’t get her mind to stop running through everything – the day, what she hadn’t said, and the journey ahead of her – long enough for sleep to catch up to her.
The night was old when she finally decided to give up. Moving quietly, she crept from the van and closed the door gently behind her. For the first time she was glad Kai had ignored her nagging to replace the burnt out interior light. With no real destination in mind she wandered to the water, making her way down the shoreline and away from the docks until she found a relatively secluded spot to sit and think.
She watched the water lap a few paces from where she dug her toes into the sand. Her eyes followed the tide backwards out to the ocean and horizon. How much time had she spent staring out across this vast expanse, wondering what lay beyond? All of the great and adventurous stories she had imagined for her nephew’s benefit paled in comparison to what she was about to do. For all of the times she had wondered if she would ever be brave enough to seek an adventure of her own, now she was doubtless. This was something she had to do.
The sky was pristine and clear. Even with the lights of town behind her, May could still see countless winking stars spilled across the heavens. To look at them made her uneasy, for she knew them now to be as dangerous as they were beautiful. There was so much about the Stars – their world and their rules – that was still a mystery to her. She wasn’t too proud to admit she was in over her head but at the same time, she wasn’t afraid; whatever she found herself up against now had to be worth it. She could feel it.
A sound of splashing in the water caught her attention. May squinted through the darkness, trying to see what was thrashing about in the surf. She heard gasping breaths in the night. Though sparse, what little light there was available glinted off what May realized was wet and shining alabaster skin.
Her heart leapt to her throat.
It was her.
It was Em.
Banner art by @flowerveil