[ CW: Strong language ]
The drive out to the treehouse was made in silence.
May rubbed the back of her head and kept her gaze locked out the window as Kai drove his van, the Rocket, down the hardened path of sand she used to walk every day. It felt like a dream.
At first Kai had offered to move out of the treehouse so May could have her old place back, but she refused. After some tense negotiating, she finally agreed to come back with him if only to pacify his guilt and avoid having to spend the night avoiding her parents’ pitying looks.
The Rocket rumbled to a stop and May jumped out before Kai could even turn off the engine. She gazed up at the deck of the treehouse, her stomach tight with both anxiety and nostalgia. From the outside it looked like the exact same place she and her father had built together; the same place she had taken refuge when the people of Omea turned their backs on her. From her place on the sand, May could see the hammock Em slept in when she first arrived. Despite this place – this island – having been May’s home, Em was everywhere; an invisible mark lingering as strongly as the day she left it.
“Ready?” Kai asked, May’s pack hitched up over one of his shoulders.
Exhaling slowly, May nodded and followed him up the stairs.
Once inside, the presence of a man was unmistakable. Though Kai hadn’t made any major changes, there was evidence of his handiwork everywhere. The sliding glass door leading out to the deck – the one Em had demolished in her attempt to save May from Kane that last, fateful night – had been completely replaced. He had also changed the locks on the door and reinforced the windows. His tool box and belt sat in a heap by the couch and a surfboard leaned against the bookshelf on the far wall.
“Sorry about the mess,” Kai mumbled as he swooped to clear a few mounds of discarded laundry from the floor and couch. “I swear I’m usually not this messy.”
“I’ve known you my entire life, Kai,” May replied. “I know that’s not true.”
Kicking off her shoes, May took a few steps into the room and paused. “What is that smell?”
The question elicited a sly grin from Kai.
“Check this out, you’re gonna love it.”
He lead her down the solitary hallway, past the bathroom to the small storage closet where the smell of yeast and other earthy aromas was almost overpowering. With a flourish, Kai pulled open the closet door and yanked on the chain for the light bulb dangling overhead. There, in the space where May had once stored spare bedding and towels, sat a small nondescript barrel.
“I have no idea what I’m looking at,” she admitted flatly.
“I’m brewing my own beer,” Kai boasted, clearly proud of himself.
“In the closet?” May was confused.
“Yeah, come try it.” Kai killed the light and sealed the barrel back in the closet before ushering May to the kitchen. From the fridge he pulled two brown bottles and cracked the caps off in the crook of his elbow.
“When did this happen?” May asked, giving the mouth of her bottle a tentative sniff.
“When I moved in,” Kai said, throwing back a swig from his own. “I’ve always wanted to try it but never really had the space. You get used to the smell, I promise.”
May had always known her brother enjoyed beer but hadn’t realized he harbored a desire to make it himself. Telling herself to keep a straight face no matter how it tasted, she took a sip.
“Oh, wow!” May blinked up at her brother in surprise. “This is actually really good.”
“I know, right?” Kai looked positively delighted with himself. “Lenaia even convinced her boss to start selling it at the bar once I can increase production.”
“Well holy shit,” May marvelled before taking another, more generous drink. Kai boomed with laughter. Beers in hand, they made their way out onto the deck to watch the last of the twilight colors fade.
For the first few moments neither spoke. May sat in the hammock, kicking at the floor with her toes to get it rocking. From the old folding chair, Kai stared out across the ocean. When it became clear May was nearing the end of her bottle, he opened a fresh one and handed it to her without asking. She took it with a crooked half-smile.
“So, what happened?” Kai asked at last, watching his sister throw back her beer like someone drinking to forget. “Why are you really back here?”
“I told you,” May said, wiping her bottom lip with the back of her hand. “Em’s gone. What else was I supposed to do?”
“I guess I just don’t understand.” Kai closed one eye and peered into his bottle with the other, watching the amber beer swirl. “You two were crazy about each other. What the fuck happened?”
May hesitated before answering. She could tell by the hurt in his voice Kai was feeling betrayed – he had really believed in them. A lump rose in May’s throat and she took another drink to wash it down.
“I don’t really want to talk about it,” she replied with a grimace. “I don’t even want to think about it to be honest.”
Kai pressed his lips into a tight line between his teeth. “Are you okay?”
“No,” May said. “Not really.”
She could feel Kai watching her, willing her to look at him and open up, but she ignored him. Despite the plan and the fact that the break-up was all for show, May was as raw as if the whole thing had been real. It felt real even now, after all the time she’d had to process things. If she succumbed to her brother’s pity she had no idea how long it would take to pull herself back together.
She was so tired of crying over Em.
Eventually, Kai gave in. He sighed loudly, and collected the empty bottles.
“Let me go grab a few things from the bedroom and then you can have it,” he said. “I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“I’m not taking your room from you,” May argued defiantly. “Don’t be ridiculous, I’ll sleep down here.”
“Like fuck you will,” was all Kai said in reply. May heard him pick up her pack and, turning, watched him haul it up the stairs to the treehouse’s only bedroom. On any other day she would have put up more of a fight, but right now she was too tired to care.
Finishing her beer, May laid back in the hammock and let the sound of the waves drown out her thoughts. Her mind was almost clear when the first of the night’s stars appeared in the darkened sky.
“You just won’t let me be, will you?” she whispered up to the winking white light. The warm line of a single tear traced its way across her cheekbone and down into her hair. She wiped it away with the cuff of her sleeve and frowned when she realized it was Em’s hoodie she was wearing.
The Star was everywhere.
When she was done being angry, May would come to appreciate that.
For now, she was still too hurt to do anything but cry.
“No wonder I’m so tired.” she murmured before letting the rest of the tears falls.
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