Dom leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
In the quiet of the forest he let the crisp morning air envelope his body while the first rays of morning sunshine warmed his face. He swayed in place, keeping time with the natural rhythm of the trees. Every bird song, every snap of twigs or skittering in the underbrush let him know all was well in his first home.
He appreciated these quiet mornings – the ones that afforded him the time to sneak away from Tenna for a few hours and let his glamour fall while he reconnected with the forest. He needed this time to rejuvenate his magic.
To a passerby, Dom would be easy to mistake for a tree of some kind. Vine-like tendrils sprouted from his skull and cascaded down the dark, earthen clay of his shoulders, fluttering in a short-lived breeze. The clay of his body gradually darkened to black, reaching roots at his feet and fingers. With slow, deliberate movement, Dom lifted the ends of his vines and surveyed how they were coming into bloom with a satisfied smile.
Spring had always been his favourite season.
When he was ready – refreshed and revitalized – Dom lurched back toward town. With each step his glamour rose until at last he strode from the tree line as a smiling, contented woodsman.
“Welcome back!” Trina called as she spotted Dom ambling into the courtyard of the Tenna Search and Rescue headquarters. “Mail’s here.”
She waved a small stack of envelopes over her head, taking great pleasure in watching Dom’s face light up.
“Another one?” He picked up his pace, trotting to the large bay doors of the garage where the rest of his team chatted over steaming mugs of coffee.
Karin, sitting atop a skid of fresh supplies, raised a hand to shield her eyes from the sun and shouted back to him. “We’ll know once you open it. Hurry your ass up, boy!”
Dom reached the others and, after a brief game of keep-away on Trina’s part, surveyed the manila envelope that had arrived that morning. The size of it was a little unusual, but the regular markers were all there: the carefully printed address (always directed to him) in familiar chirography. There was never any return address, only a tiny, hand-drawn star in a corner on the back of the envelope.
A giddy rush surged through him when his eyes caught sight of the star. Without pause he slid a finger beneath the fold and tore the paper open in one smooth swipe.
“What have they been up to this time?” Mattie craned his neck to watch over Dom’s shoulder as he pulled from the envelope a folded piece of heavy stock paper.
“Looks like a poster,” Dom muttered in reply to a different question altogether. He unfolded the paper with gentle hands and surveyed its print in surprise.
A title in exciting, hand-sketched typeface was splashed above an image of three brightly coloured acrobats tumbling through the air.
“A circus flyer?” Trina balked, poking her head over Dom’s arm to get a better look. “Why would they send us this?”
“I was hoping for more photos,” Sean grumped over his mug. “What’s this supposed to mean?”
Sean sulked surprisingly well for a man of his intimidating stature.
But Dom simply grinned.
“It means they’re brilliant.”
After the team finished passing the poster around, Dom stole away with it up to his dorm. In his closet he pushed aside the hangers of jackets and shirts, exposing the back wall. He surveyed the collage of photos and postcards he had pinned to the space and mentally mapped out what would have to move to make room for the poster.
It had been close to a year since Em and May had last been in Tenna. Dom remembered that day vividly – the day he helped his friends flee a mysterious pursuer from Em’s past. It was the same day Dom learned the truth about Em; it still baffled him that he had been so close to a living Star without realizing it.
But even with the truth being as shocking as it was, Dom never once wished anything but the best for his former lover, nor for the woman she now found herself devoted to. And so, when he received the first mysterious envelope containing a single photograph, he was relieved.
It had been a photo of May, beaming at the camera over her shoulder. He assumed it was Em capturing the image of her girlfriend kneeling on a blanket. Beyond her the sunset was frozen from their perch atop a grassy hill.
The images that followed told a story of roving adventure. Usually they were of May, Em ever the photographer. May learning to play guitar around a campfire in the company of fellow backpackers. May, her face painted in bright and vivid colours, dancing with strangers in a lively street festival. May hanging like a sloth from a high tree branch in what looked to be a rainforest with a wide, childlike grin stretched across her freckled face.
When Em was in the photos, she was usually captured in candid moments almost out of frame: helping prepare a meal in a communal kitchen, kneeling excitedly amidst a herd of long-eared goat kids, napping in a heap on the bank of an emerald coloured glacial lake. And in the rare picture that featured them both, they were shining, happy, and overflowing with love.
Dom smiled as he rearranged the collection, living vicariously through their documented travels. He had no idea where they were, but for every unmarked envelope he received, he at least knew they were alive and well. He tacked the circus poster up in the freshly cleared space and sat back on his heels to survey his work.
When he stood to close the closet, the sound of frantic footsteps stole his attention.
“Dom,” Matti hissed, sticking his head into the room. His face was ashen with distress. “You need to get downstairs.”
Before Dom could ask why, Matti swallowed hard and answered his unspoken question first.
“There are people here,” Matti whispered, looking fearful. “They’re looking for Em.”