“This is easier said than done, but don’t take it personally.” Dom was trying to make the best of Em’s sudden and very unexpected departure. “She probably has no idea she hurt you.”
May turned to him with an icy stare. He winced accordingly.
“I know you think that’s supposed to help, but it’s really not working,” she said.
“Noted.” Dom raised his hands in surrender.
“Yes, she has every right to be freaked out and upset.” May could hear the octave of her voice rising. She didn’t care. “But this affects both of us. We should be working this out together. And if she doesn’t realize that taking off like this would hurt me-”
“Maybs,” Dom placed a hand on each of her shoulders and exhaled. “I know you don’t want to hear this but I don’t think this is the time to make this about you. Em loves you but she needs a bit of space. She’ll come back to you when she’s ready.”
He was right – she didn’t want to hear it. But with every second that passed, it sank in that he might have a point. With a heavy sigh she stepped away until she backed into the cool metal side of the trailer. She slumped against it miserably.
They were outside, watching the sky, waiting to see if Em would return. Every time a star flickered May’s heart skipped, but it was never her. Dom dropped himself onto the steps and together they let the moments slip by in silence.
“What happened to her hair?” Dom asked eventually, intruding on the stillness of the night.
When Em had tumbled into May’s arms, her ballcap fell to the floor to reveal her once long, shimmering locks had been chopped short.
“It’s easier to hide under hats and wigs this way,” May answered absently, gesturing at her own head. “We tried colouring it but it wouldn’t take. Her body just rejects stuff like that. Wouldn’t even take a tattoo.”
“A tattoo?” Dom raised a quizzical eyebrow.
“We were supposed to match.”
“Are you telling me you got a tattoo?”
May shot him a mischievous look. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
Chuckling softly, Dom looked skyward.
“I really fucked up, didn’t I?” he asked, his voice heavy with defeat. “If it’s worth anything at all, I really did think I was doing the right thing. But I guess the road to ruin is paved with good intentions.”
May smiled sadly.
“Don’t beat yourself up over it, Dom,” she said. “I think I would have done the same thing.”
Dom groaned in reply, dropping his head into his hands.
“Are you alright?” May shot upright in alarm.
Fast as a blink his form appeared to flicker.
“I’m sorry to do this to you now, Maybe.” Dom grunted as he pulled himself to his feet. “But it’s been awhile since I’ve spent time in the forest. My magic is getting weak.”
“Oh no.” May watched as he flickered again, revealing a flash of roots and foliage. “Your glamour is slipping.”
It was so easy to forget what he really was. In a way it was the same with Em.
If someone told me a a couple years ago I would one day be surrounded by magical creatures and not be phased by it, I would have laughed in their faces, she thought as she reached a hand out for Dom.
“Come on.” She motioned for him to follow. “I’ll take you to the woods.”
The walk to the outskirts of town took some time and by the time they arrived, Dom’s human form had been replaced by the hulking silhouette of his true self. May could just make out the points of elk-like antlers reaching from his crown of lush greenery and vines, and the glint of his inky eyes reflecting the moonlight.
“Ahh.” His exhale sounded like the wind passing through mountain pines as they ambled into the forest’s edge. “Better… al…ready.”
“I’ve never seen you like this.” May squinted through the darkness. Even in the shadows he was an impressive thing to behold. “Not properly anyway.”
Dom held out his hand and let her run her fingers over what were previously his fingers.
“I can’t believe I spent most of my life thinking magic only existed in myths and legends,” she mused. Dom grunted in what she realized was supposed to be a laugh; his capacity for human speech was now as gone as his glamour.
“Will you come back before we have to meet them tomorrow?” she asked.
He nodded before turning slowly.
May watched wordlessly as he disappeared into the trees. She stood for a while, letting the breeze send goosebumps racing along her flesh. The sound of crickets distracted her from how very strange it felt to be completely alone for the first time in ages.
Eventually the chill of nighttime made her shiver and she decided she had no business lurking in the dark any longer. She took a meandering route back to the circus grounds, shuffling her feet down a quiet road. Aside from the crickets and the occasional passing car, the world was peaceful and still, which is why, when the sound of weeping drifted from somewhere ahead, May paused to listen.
The sorrowful sound came from the lit parking lot in front of the building she was coming up to. She hesitated before continuing, unnerved by what she might find. The cries sounded more heartbroken than distressed and May didn’t want to intrude.
Stepping lightly, she crept along in the shadows of the building, peering around the corner into the lot. She gasped. Sitting on the curb, her knees drawn to her chest, was Rue. Her shoulders shook with each sob.
May glanced up at a poorly lit sign that read Willows Court.
“Shoot,” she hissed under her breath.
The door to one of the motel rooms creaked open. May ducked low and watched as Jeremy stepped over the threshold and closed it behind him with a quiet click.
“I’m sorry, J,” Rue sniffed. “I was being too loud, wasn’t I?”
Jeremy took a seat on the concrete beside her, giving her shoulder a nudge with his own.
“Nah, I just couldn’t sleep.”
Rue mumbled and the pair fell into distracted silence. From their expressions May could tell their thoughts were taking them to complicated places.
“I’m really sorry, Jeremy,” Rue said, snapping him out of his daze.
“For what?” he asked.
“That she’s, you know…” she shifted awkwardly. “That she’s not her.”
Jeremy went stiff.
“It’s fine,” he muttered, staring off into the darkness so he didn’t have to meet her pitying eyes. May shrunk back, worried the intensity of his gaze might allow him to spot her in the shadows. “It was stupid of me to think she was somehow still alive.”
“Not stupid.” Rue leaned her head on his shoulder. “Just hopeful.”
Giving his head a small shake, Jeremy tried to loosen up. He peeked down at his friend and took her hand in his own. “Speaking of hopeful, how are you holding up?”
Rue’s mouth puckered and for a moment May thought she might start to cry again. Instead she let out a slow, shaky exhale and closed her eyes.
“Do you think they’ll say yes?” she asked quietly. “Do you think they’ll help us?”
Jeremy frowned. “I wish I could say yes, Rue. Audrey would have. But-”
“She’s not Audrey,” Rue finished, sitting back up and pretending to fuss with her hair so she could wipe discretely at a stray tear. “And they don’t know us and they don’t know Gaten.” Her voice cracked, her breath fluttered. Now she let the tears slide. “It was so dumb to think they would they ever agree-”
“Hey,” Jeremy stopped her, draping a long arm around her quivering shoulders. “Don’t do that. She might not be Audrey but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a good heart, right? Who knows, they could still surprise us.”
May pulled back. As quietly as she could she backtracked and found a sidestreet to take instead. Before she knew it she was running, pumping her legs as fast as they would carry her until her lungs seared with the effort.
But it didn’t matter how far or how fast she went – she couldn’t outrun the memory of Rue’s sadness. Her mind flashed between the image of Gaten in the locket to every mental photograph she held dear of Omi. If it were him, she’d be just as devastated.
If it were him, she wouldn’t think twice about doing whatever it took.
She didn’t stop until she reached the circus gates. Breathless, she doubled over and let the weight of the truth crash down over her.
It was stupid.
It was dangerous.
May peered up at the sky with all its winking stars and wondered what her own would say when she told her what she was thinking.
They had to do it.
They had to save Gaten.
[ Next Chapter ]