Later that evening, Marina showed May and Em to a spare bedroom and told them to make themselves comfortable.
“I’m going to make sure Myles is actually in bed,” she said, watching as the girls surveyed the room. “Marcus and I are at the end of the hall – last door on the left. Knock if you need anything.”
She pulled the door closed behind her with a soft click. May listened to her retreating footsteps until they disappeared up the stairs to the floor Myles’ bedroom was on. Down the hall Marcus, Marina’s husband, had already retired for the night. In the quiet, the house felt like a trap and May’s unease resurfaced once more.
Though Em had already collapsed into a full sprawl on the bed, May felt too restless to join her. She began to pace, pausing at the window. Her hand hovered at the closed curtains. A paranoid, anxious part of her brain begged her to peek out, but she was stopped by the memory of Marina asking them to stay out of sight. Reluctantly she pulled away and wandered back to the door. She checked for a lock and, when she didn’t find one, dragged an old wooden chair from the writing desk in the corner and wedged its back beneath the handle.
It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Marina or her family; May had simply learned not to get too comfortable.
“I wonder how much longer the others will be,” May wondered aloud, examining her makeshift blockade with a satisfied nod.
It took her a beat to realize Em wasn’t listening.
When she glanced over, May saw Em’s gaze trained on the ceiling. Her expression was one of deep and troubled thought. May sank gently onto the mattress beside her and laid a soft hand on Em’s shoulder.
“Babe?” she inquired quietly. “Are you sure everything’s okay?”
Em blinked, looking at May as though she had forgotten she was in the room. “What?”
“I asked if everything was alright.”
Biting her lip, Em rolled her face onto May’s hand and pressed her cheek into its warmth. “I don’t know. I guess so.”
But May knew her better than that. She laid down next to Em so they were face to face.
“Talk to me.”
Em cringed; she knew it was pointless to protest.
“It’s about Audrey,” she admitted without looking May in the eyes. She had never been comfortable talking about her past life with May more than was absolutely necessary.
“What about her?” May hoped the inquisitive cadence of her voice didn’t give away the flutter of panic in her stomach.
“I think…” Em squinted, thinking hard about what she wanted to say next. “I think I’m starting to forget her. Well, not her exactly, but her memories. Her feelings. I didn’t realize it until we got here and now I’m wondering how long it’s been going on.”
“What kind of things are you forgetting?” May asked. She had a hard enough time reconciling the fact that Em was host to two lives worth of memories.
Em frowned. “I forgot Marina has a kid. And yet I remembered she’s a computer engineer. It’s weird.”
“That’s awful,” May said, stroking Em’s silver strands back from her face. She combed her fingertips gently along Em’s scalp and watched her features relax into the sensation. “What do you think is causing it?”
“Probably just time to be honest,” Em admitted, closing her eyes. “When they first brought me back, Welkin told me it would take a while to settle into being me. But even they had no idea what that would look like. Maybe in time I’ll forget about Audrey altogether.”
May let the idea roll around in her mind. As much as Em’s past had left her feeling troubled, the idea of her losing that identity somehow felt worse to her.
“Or maybe two sets of memories is just too much for one brain to hold on to,” she offered. “I have a hard enough time remembering people’s names and I’ve just got my own memories to deal with.”
Em chuckled quietly. “I guess that makes sense. It makes me wonder what else I’ve forgotten though.”
“Are you worried?”
“Not exactly. A little sad, a little relieved.”
May was surprised. “Relieved?”
“It’s like you said, two sets of memories aren’t easy to juggle. It’s not like it’s been peaceful or anything.” Em shrugged into the mattress. “Besides, there’s a lot about Audrey I’d rather not have to live with.”
“Hey.” May touched her forehead to Em’s, staring resolutely into her eyes. “No matter what happens, you’re still you.”
“Thanks, love.” Em smiled. “What about you? How are you handling all of this?”
“It’s a little weird,” May admitted. “Being here with Connor’s family while everyone else is out there somewhere. I feel like I can’t relax. Do you trust Marina? Are we safe?”
Em’s arms circled around May and pulled her close, burying her face into the soft curls of May’s hair. “Connor and the rest of WIND are so careful; if they trust Marina right now, I think we’re fine.” May nestled into every nook and curve of her body until she could imagine their edges blurring into one. “As far as whether or not we’re safe, I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
May smiled into the softness of Em’s neck. She wasn’t naive enough to let the burden of their safety fall solely on Em’s shoulders, but her girlfriend’s conviction was enough to let her relax just enough to drift off to sleep.
The following morning, May awoke to Em crawling out of bed.
“Don’t get up,” Em whispered, planting a soft kiss on May’s forehead. “I’m just going to have a shower.”
With a groggy nod, May snuggled into the warm place Em left behind and tried to recapture the last wisps of slumber. She hovered in that hazy threshold between wakefulness and sleep for a few minutes, but the sound of running in the halls pulled her fully into the morning. Yawning, she dragged herself from beneath the covers and pulled Em’s hoodie over her shoulders.
May wandered out into the hallway, the air still with the chill of morning. She craned her head and followed the sound of the footsteps bounding down the hallway above and onto the stairs. When the offending feet came into view she discovered it was Myles racing toward her. His duffle bag, overstuffed into a bulging mass, bounced against his back with every step.
“Hi,” Myles said, jumping over the last stair and landing with a heavy thump on both feet. He smiled up at May with the confidence she recalled coming easy at that age.
“Good morning,” May replied, returning the smile. “Are you off to another game?” She gestured to his bag.
“Nope.” Myles hitched the strap so the bag sat higher on his back. “Dad and I are going to visit my aunt Eliza for a few days. He and mom are letting me skip school and everything. Cool, huh?”
“Wow, sure is,” May marvelled, genuinely surprised. No one in the family had said anything about a trip when they had sat around with their bowls of ice cream the night before. She followed Myles as he thundered down the final flight of stairs, her soft footsteps nothing more than a whisper by comparison.
“Have you got everything?” She heard Marina ask from the garage entrance way.
May stepped into the room just as Marina wrapped her arms around Myles and held him long and tight. She didn’t let go until her son started to squirm.
“Mom! You’re squishing me!”
“Sorry, baby.” Marina reached for her husband and gave him a kiss. “Call me when you get there, okay?”
“It’ll be the first thing I do,” Marcus promised, holding a hand over his heart. “I won’t even stop to say hello to my sister.” He winked as Marina snorted, then turned his attention to May. She froze; she didn’t think they had noticed she was there. ”It was nice to meet you, May.”
“Likewise,” she replied, her cheeks flushing involuntarily. Marina wouldn’t look at her.
Once Marcus and Myles were loaded into the vehicle, Marina watched and waved, smiling brightly until they turned onto the road and disappeared behind the hedges. Her smile faded, and she closed the garage with the tap of a button.
“Did you send them away because of us?” May asked when Marina shut the side door, locking it behind her. She gave May a critical look, and then sighed.
“No offence.” She breezed past May and motioned for her to follow. “I couldn’t risk them getting caught up in whatever my brother is up to. Listen, I want to talk to you two. Where’s-”
Em came trotting down the stairs, shaking out her damp hair. “Did I just hear the garage? Are they here?”
“No.” Marina frowned. She opened a door to a set of stairs that descended into the basement. She nodded, gesturing downstairs. “Come on, I have something to show you.”
[ Next ]