May didn’t blame anyone for the hush that fell over the room when she stepped into it.
Her family’s expressions ranged from apprehensive to shell-shocked and she was sure her nervous smile wasn’t helping.
“Hi,” she said weakly, giving a little wave.
Her brother, Kai, was the first to make a move. He rose wordlessly from the sofa, stepped across the room in three massive strides, and swept May up into his strong arms, crushing her in a hug.
“I fucking missed you, Maybe,” Kai thundered. His voice, even in tenderness, was as big as he was.
“Hey! Language!” Ora admonished. May peered over Kai’s shoulder to see her sister casting a pointed look at Omi, who laughed behind his hands.
“Omi knows what’s up,” Kai replied. He gripped May around the middle and lifted her up as if she were a child herself. “Auntie’s back!”
“Auntie’s back!” Omi parroted, throwing himself at his uncle’s legs and scaling him like a tree.
“Yes, auntie’s back,” Tiio said, leaning out from the kitchen with a smile across her face. “But dinner’s also ready so quit messing around and come get your plates.”
May was swarmed in the ensuing rush to the kitchen. Arms wrapped her in tight, warm hugs and kisses pressed into her glowing cheeks. The questions would come, but for now May was going to let herself enjoy this sorely needed outpouring of love and affection.
The Alana family filled their plates in a flurry of bodies moving about the kitchen and filed out onto the patio. Plumeria scented the hot evening air and May breathed it in as she settled into her seat and into the comfortable familiarity of this place and the people she was with.
“I can’t believe how long your hair has gotten, Maybe!” Ora chirped as she poured fresh juice into Omi’s glass. “I always liked it when it was long.”
May let out an awkward laugh, twisting a damp lock around her finger. “Things have been so busy I kind of forgot to keep it trimmed to be honest.” She still preferred it short, but she didn’t think that was worth mentioning right now.
“Tell us all about what’s been keeping you busy,” said Gray, Ora’s husband, with a grin. “We’re dying to know what you’ve been up to out there.”
“Are there pirates on the mainland?” Omi shouted across the table through a full mouth.
“Everybody stop,” Tiio said, waving for everyone to hush. “The girl has been resting for days. At least let her get a few bites in first.”
May’s father, Kaleo, nodded in Ora’s direction. “Why don’t you tell your sister the news?”
Ora opened her mouth, but Omi swallowed his mouthful and beat her to it.
“I’m gonna be a big brother!” he exclaimed gleefully.
With a gasp, May darted a wide-eyed glance to her beaming sister.
May slapped a hand over her mouth as Ora blanched. Tiio and Kaleo coughed through their full mouths. Kai howled with laughter. They had never heard her swear before.
“I’m sorry!” May apologized between her fingers.
Kai gave her a hearty slap on the back. “I never thought I’d see the day!” He laughed, then pointed a stern finger at Omi. “Remember: cussing’s only for grown-ups.”
“Anyway,” Ora said, drawing back attention with a gently placed hand on her belly. “It’s true.”
“That’s amazing!” May was in awe. “How far along are you?”
“Only a few months. These flowy dresses won’t be able to hide it for much longer. Your timing is excellent – I’ll be able to use the extra help once baby arrives!”
May was sure Ora meant well by the statement – after all, May had always loved the time she spent with Omi. But the idea of being a nanny again – of going right back to where she was before meeting Em – made her stomach plummet.
“I’m so happy for you,” she said noncommittally. Keeping her smile bright, she looked at Omi. “Are you excited to have a new baby around?”
“Yup!” Omi’s entire body shimmied with joy. He was going to make a great big brother.
“Wow,” May breathed, leaning back in her seat. “What else did I miss?”
Her family filled her in on things like Omi’s first year at “big boy school” and the fact that Kai had moved into her old tree house – a fact he admitted to bashfully, worried his sister might be upset at having been ousted from the home she built. They told her about a terrible wind storm that had blown through in the late summer, damaging many homes in the village.
“It’s certainly kept us busy,” said Kaleo, who owned small construction company – inherited from his own father – that was responsible for having built most of the houses in the village. “But thankfully no one was hurt. Other than that it’s been a pretty quiet year.”
May’s eyes roamed the faces of her family, searching for hints of all the things they weren’t telling her. There were no mentions of the rumors or gossip Lenaia had alluded to or admonishments over her abandonment. No questions about Em. May couldn’t shake the feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“Now that you’re caught up, tell us what you’ve been up to,” Kai demanded as he sat back down with a plate full of second helpings. “I wanna hear everything.”
Everything. May turned the word over in her mind as she decided what exactly she was going to say. She had no doubt her family wasn’t telling her everything, hiding the more worrying details of the past year from her as she was sure they were. To be fair, there was a lot May wasn’t willing to tell them either.
So, she followed their lead and kept it light. Carefully extracting Em from the stories, May told her family about the good times. She painted pictures of towering cities and towns carved into cliff sides, of weeks spent harvesting grapes to be made into wine and about the time she put all her father’s lessons to work when she helped repair a collapsed hostel roof. To Omi she described the powerful trains she used to get from place to place, and Kai nodded approvingly when she mentioned she learned to play guitar. A story about helping a rancher deliver a breech calf made May’s mother – Omea’s longest-serving midwife – smile wide with pride. The more she talked about her adventures on the mainland the easier it was for her to pretend the whole thing had simply been a whirlwind backpacking trip and not the byproduct of being on the run from a murderous group of zealots.
As she talked, her family asked all the right questions – were the people friendly? Had she been scared? What was the food like? Did she miss them? There was a giant white elephant sitting at the table, but they were all doing their absolute best to ignore it.
That suited May just fine. Perhaps it was naive to pretend she’d never have to answer any of the tough questions – that she’d be able to slide back into life on the island as though nothing had happened – but May was willing to try as long as everyone else would let her.
“Auntie?” Omi asked, his chin resting in his hands.
“Yeah, baby?” May still couldn’t get over the fact that he was sitting right across from her after months and months of missing him.
“Where did your girlfriend go?”
The silence was deafening. Even the birds in the trees seemed to hold their breath.
There it was: the question everyone had been dancing around.
Beneath the table, Ora gave Omi a little prod.
“Ow!” He jerked away from her. “What was that for?”
“What did I say about asking that question?” she hissed between clenched teeth, mortification colouring her face.
“It’s okay,” May said. She hadn’t meant to say it; the words seemed to come from somewhere else like an unseen ventriloquist was using her as a dummy. May’s heart sank and her body went numb. The comfortable easiness that had surrounded the dinner table was gone now, though it had been good while it lasted.
She looked at her nephew and forced a sad smile. “She’s gone, baby.”
“Em is gone.”
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