[ CW: masturbation mention (clean), problem drinking/alcoholic tendencies ]
Sleeping in Kai’s room was a confusing experience for May.
There was the familiarity, the understanding that it had once and for many years been hers. But now the pillows smelled of sawdust and sea salt – the combination of which had always reminded May of her brother – and the yeasty aroma of Kai’s home-brewed beer as it wafted through the floorboard. Despite Kai’s assurances, she still hadn’t gotten used to it. Still, the smells coupled with things like the mountain of mens t-shirts stacked on the dresser and a second surfboard wedged next to the bed helped May subtract Em’s memory from the room just enough to let her sleep.
By morning, however, May was right back where she started. Waking up with Em on her mind became May’s normal. Some mornings she was rendered immobile with heartsickness, the space beside her too vast and cold to bring any comfort. Other mornings she woke up angry. On these days she’d tell herself she should have accepted Lety’s offer to stay with the Murder. Perhaps something might have bloomed between the two of them, and wouldn’t that have taught Em for cutting her out of the rescue mission and abandoning her?
It would only take a moment of entertaining that line of thinking – of trying to spitefully imagine letting Lety’s lips press into hers – before shame and an unimaginable sense of loss chased the anger away. Yes, she was mad at Em and, no, she still didn’t believe in the plan. But she loved that girl so much it hurt and too much to imagine doing anything other than wait.
Some mornings, after hyper-real dreams of Em’s skin and hands and mouth, May would be awoken by a throbbing between her legs. She missed Em’s body against hers; the way the Star would worship her like a goddess while leaving paths of bruising kisses up her thighs. The memory always left May aching until she slid her hand under her clothes to finish what dream Em had started.
Some day, she promised herself in the wave of bliss that followed when she finished, they would share those moments again. If she was patient, then one day she wouldn’t have to wake up without her.
The days passed in a blur. Kai was usually gone to work with their father by the time May emerged, so she took her time deciding how to spend the long hours stretching out like miles between herself and the vague destination she was waiting to reach. It was hard for her to imagine really settling in – she had no idea if her return to Omea would be long or short-lived – so she spent her days avoiding anything that felt too permanent.
She made a point to visit Omi every day, even if it was just to share lunch with him. But as time passed her mother’s gentle patience with her morphed into a concerned pressure that May didn’t want to deal with.
“What’s your plan, May?” Tiio asked one afternoon as they washed dishes side-by-side. “We could find you a job. Perhaps you could get certified to work with me as a midwife. You’re so smart, it wouldn’t take long.”
“No one’s going to want me delivering their babies, mama,” May replied, her voice deadpan.
“Oh, stop it,” her mother fussed on the edge of frustration. “People will trust you again. But you have to try. Check your attitude and remember they‘re just scared of what they don’t understand. You’ll prove them wrong.”
That was as close as her mother came to laying blame, a fact May had to give her some credit for; there had been a time when the accusations would have come first and the compassion second. Still, if there was one thing May had left in the past, it was any desire to grovel for the approval of Omea’s general population.
She wore this defiance like armor when she walked through town. The first time she willed herself to wander the streets alone she had been riddled with anxiety until she witnessed the first set of eyes widen in recognition at the sight of her. It was a look she wasn’t used to getting from the people here; not a sneer of judgement but a gaze of awe.
Quickly, May realized whatever rumors Lenaia had mentioned must have painted May out to be a force to be reckoned with at best, and a villain at worst. May rather liked the peace the notoriety afforded her. These weren’t people she wanted to earn back the respect of – as long as they left her alone, she could be happy.
But whether it was her family or the townspeople, May found she could only spend so much time around either before she desperately needed to be alone. By the afternoons she was usually in the water in front of the treehouse. For hours she would bob in the waves like a bottle cast out to sea; inside, a tightly curled missive filled with heartache and misery. She’d float, rocking gently until she felt the water seep inside and dissolve her feelings like a delicate piece of soaked parchment.
Sometimes she would gather a deep breath, close her eyes and dive deeply just to let herself drift. She tried to use the water the way Em did, letting the warm and dense saltwater block out her senses until all that existed in the world was her and her alone. Even without otherworldly abilities, she could see the appeal, though she wondered how Em could have ever equated May with the ocean. May couldn’t fathom how she could bring another person this kind of peace when she herself was such a raging storm.
She would stay in the ocean until the unnatural sounds of the Rocket rumbling up the beach called her home. Once inside, Kai would dole out cold bottles of beer and the pair would spend the rest of the evening drinking and talking as they watched the sun set.
Kai was the only one in her family who was truly honest with May. Over the course of several nights he admitted to the rumors that had begun circulating after May left the island. He told her about their parents’ fear for her safety, especially when they didn’t hear from her – a point that made May cringe with guilt.
“I think it changed all of us, to be honest,” Kai mused over the mouth of his bottle, thinking back to the fall-out of that final night with a far-off expression.
Their parents had pushed back against anyone who dared speak out against May; they wanted to do right by their daughter, even if she was no longer there to benefit from it. While none of them had seen who threw Kane from the treehouse, the entire Alana family had not been quiet about making sure he didn’t get to play the victim. Ever humble, Kai danced around the idea that he might have been the one to convince Bilo – Kane’s accomplice – into fessing up to the real reason they were at the treehouse in the first place.
“It pisses me off it took this long for people to finally start seeing Kane for the trash fire of a person that he is, but at least people are starting to come around.” Kai told her.
“Then why do they all look at me like I might burn the whole town down?” May asked as she emptied her third drink of the night. “Not that I mind to be honest.”
Kai considered the question for a silent moment. “I think they realized they underestimated you. Especially now; you’ve been places and done things they can only imagine. Plus you’ve, uh, got friends in high places.”
May shook her head. “So what you’re really saying is they’re afraid of her.”
Her. They didn’t say her name anymore.
“Is that such a bad thing?” Kai’s eyebrows raised with curiosity.
May didn’t have an answer for him.
Unfortunately, of all the coping mechanisms May developed since being home, it was the daily drink she took to with the most gusto. A couple beers after dinner became too many over the course of an evening and soon Kai was coming home to find May had gotten started without him. He’d purse his lips, watching his sister gaze glassy-eyed over the water, but he said nothing.
Then one day, after sleeping the morning away, May staggered downstairs and peered at the clock. She groaned when she saw how late it was and, after changing into her swimsuit, she made a beeline for the water in hope that the cool embrace of the sea would be all she needed to wash away the lingering grog.
It wasn’t until a couple hours later when she returned to the house to find something to eat, that she made the discovery. She pulled open the refrigerator door only to find it conspicuously sparse. The shelves that once housed Kai’s beer were bare.
Frowning, May padded down the hallway. She had a pretty good sense of what she was going to find when she opened the closet door but it still surprised her to see the brewing barrel was gone.
“Did you seriously hide the beer from me?” May spat when Kai came home that evening. “Like I’m some kind of teenage delinquent?”
“You mean my beer, that I make out of ingredients I pay for?” Kai snapped back. It was like they were kids again, arguing over shared playthings.
May rolled her eyes, vaguely surprised by how irritated she was by this.
“You said the stuff in the fridge was for drinking,” she said, arms crossed tightly across her chest. “If you didn’t want me to drink it, why didn’t you say something?”
“Because by the time I realized I should I don’t think it would have stopped you.”
His words spilled out in a hurry, as if he didn’t trust himself to say it if he thought about it too long. His face was flushed and his expression pained. May’s mouth dropped open as she blinked back at him in shock.
“What is that supposed to mean?” she asked.
“It means you’re hurting, May,” Kai replied sadly. “And I think you’re looking for comfort wherever you can find it. But drinking yourself numb every night isn’t going to make it go away, not really. I want to help you, Maybe, but not like that.”
May laughed; a short, incredulous sound.
“Are you kidding me?” she demanded forcefully. “You think I’m developing some kind of problem?” She emphasized the word ‘problem’ like it was the punchline to a bad joke.
“Yes,” Kai answered, looking her dead in the eyes. “I do.”
Heat rose across May’s face. She was angry, but more than that she was embarrassed. Maybe Kai was right, but she wasn’t about to admit it to either him or herself, so instead she pushed past him and out the door.
“May, where are you going?” Kai yelled after her as he followed her down the stairs.
“To find some comfort that doesn’t come with judgement,” she snarked back at him. The words felt stupid even as they left her mouth, but the only thing she could think of was to throw his own words back at him.
Behind her, May heard Kai’s footsteps cease. He was letting her go.
And so she stormed off down the beach alone.
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