“I don’t know. I came home and heard her screaming. She was alone like this when I found her.”
May felt herself lowered from the warmth of her brother’s safe arms and onto a thin, rigid mattress.
A gurney, she told herself. They were at the hospital.
“May?” came an unfamiliar voice through the fog of pain and blood loss. “Are you with us, May?”
“Yes,” she groaned as hands belonging to a nurse eased Kai’s wadded t-shirt from the gouge down her chest. She wasn’t normally one to get woozy at the sight of blood but her head spun anyway.
“We’re going to take care of you, okay?” the nurse told her in a calm voice. All May could do was nod weakly in reply.
She was wheeled away for stitches and x-rays. While a nurse carefully shaved the side of her head to clean up one of her wounds, May wondered if Melanie was in one of these hospital rooms, either receiving treatment of her own or waiting patiently for her chance to finish the job. Thankfully, May was rarely alone long enough to have given her the chance. Her bones were whole, there was no evidence of violation between her legs – she told them this but they gently insisted in the name of being thorough – and though her stitches were many, her body would heal. Physically, she was going to be fine in time; a doctor gave her medication for the pain and a prescription to fight infection.
“We’ll need to keep you overnight for observation in case of concussion but otherwise you’re going to be okay,” said her doctor, the name of whom she had already forgotten.
“May? Oh, my baby. Who did this to you?”
May removed the cooling gel packet from the side of her face – the one she’d been given to help with the swelling – to find her family rushing into the room, led by her mother. A pair of uniformed peace officers followed them into the room and, after a few quiet words exchanged with the retreating doctor, they shut the door with a soft click.
“Miss Alana,” said one of the officers; a woman whose face somehow managed to show compassion with neither a smile nor trace of pity. “I know you’ve been through a lot tonight but we need to ask you some questions.”
“Right now?” her father asked. “Can’t this part wait until morning? My daughter needs to rest.”
The officer opened her mouth to answer but May beat her to it.
“It’s okay, papa.” She sighed, struggling to straighten up against the pillows at her back but giving up when the pain turned out to be worse that she anticipated. “They’re just doing their job. Can my family stay though?”
“If that’s what you want.”
May told them almost everything – she had been attacked by a woman who had been waiting in the house when she got home; ruddy face, grey eyes, late 30s or early 40s – but held back the facts that she knew who the woman was and what exactly she wanted. She told them about the knife and how she used it to get free. Had Kai not come home when he did things probably would have ended differently.
When the officers finally left the Alana family alone, May closed her eyes against her mother’s tears and the low murmuring between her father and siblings. All she wanted to do was go to sleep and wake up to discover this had all been a terrible nightmare.
“Did you know her, Maybe?” Kai asked at last. “The woman.”
“Yes,” May grunted, her eyes still closed. “She’s a Loyal. She’s looking for Em.”
Ora and her father spoke at the same time.
“What does that mean?” her sister fretted as their father growled, “I knew that girl-“
“Don’t,” Tiio snapped, cutting her husband off with a sharp glare to match her order. “Now’s not the time.”
“Not the time? Our daughter was attacked by some monster just because she used to associate with a Star’s daughter and you’re telling me now’s not the time?”
“Stop,” May moaned. She gazed miserably up at the fluorescent lights as her family fell into tense silence.
“I hate this,” she muttered after a while. Her words were quiet but felt like a shout shattering the silence in the hospital room. She was scared – there was no point in pretending she wasn’t. But she was also frustrated by the knowledge that her family could very well be in danger because of her. What could she do to protect them? Leave? Send them into hiding?
Her heart clenched when she realized what was happening – her fear and worry for her family was not unlike Em’s had been for her. For the first time since they parted, May finally understood exactly where the Star had been coming from. Her decision to send May away suddenly didn’t feel quite so cruel.
She tried to purse her lips, but the split through them made her flinch. “I just wish there was a way to end this once and for all. It has to stop.”
At her bedside, her mother chewed on the inside of her cheek but said nothing.
Kai dragged a chair across the room and set it next to May on the opposite side of the bed from where their mother stood..
“What are you doing?” she asked as she watched him sit and make himself comfortable.
“I’m going to stay here tonight,” he said, as if she were strange for having asked. “I’m not going to have you spending the night alone with that bitch out there.”
“I don’t think you’re allowed to do that,” May replied with a hint of a smile. “But I appreciate the sentiment.” She really did – the idea of spending the night alone in the hospital filled her with fear. “I’m also sorry for storming off. I know you were just trying to help.”
“You can make it up to me by not kicking me out.”
In the end it wasn’t up to May whether or not Kai got to stay. A nurse politely escorted the entire family from May’s room when it was time for her to sleep, assuring them all that hospital security would take extra precautions to keep her safe. But Kai was back first thing the following morning, and as soon as she was given the all-clear from her doctors, he whisked her back to their parents’ home.
Her family moved around May like ghosts, their voices hushed and their touches fleeting. The pity in their eyes had been replaced by worry and had May been less consumed by the stinging, aching pain that seemed to plague every inch of her body, she would have felt guilty about it.
That evening she excused herself to change the dressings on her wounds. In the bathroom mirror she surveyed the damage Melanie had done for the first time. May’s face was mottled with dark bruises and an angry redness around the cuts on her lips and above her left temple. Gingerly she pushed back her hair to reveal the bald patch around her stitches and suppressed the urge to cry. Then, very slowly, she unzipped Em’s hoodie – since her revelation at the hospital she had found herself craving for the Star’s familiarity again – eased the straps of her top down her shoulders, and carefully lifted the gauze from her skin.
Though the doctor had done a fine job with the sutures, the wound was still the ugliest thing May had ever seen. Inflamed, puckered skin was pulled together beneath a neat column of dark stitches and the sight of it made May lightheaded. There was something about the injury that left her feeling disconnected from her own body; she couldn’t reconcile the idea that it was she who bore the evidence of such violence.
How could this happen? she thought bitterly, trying not to think of the mean scar she was likely to carry with her for the rest of her life.
A light knock came from the door.
“Sweetheart,” said her mother. “Can I give you a hand?”
As much as she wanted to say no, just thinking about the task ahead of her made May hurt. She swallowed her pride and tugged her top higher.
“Sure,” she replied.
Her mother bustled in, shutting the door quickly behind her.
“Alright, honey. You sit on the edge of the tub and let me have a look at you.”
She worked in silence, doing in minutes what would have probably taken May at least half an hour. May went between watching the careful concentration in her mother’s eyes and the deft and nimble way her fingers worked. Under her mother’s loving care, May felt the ever-present knot in her chest ease ever so slightly.
But as she finished taping the fresh gauze into place, something about Tiio’s expression changed. Concentration was replaced by strife, and May noticed.
“Mama?” she asked. “What is it?”
Tiio took a deep breath but didn’t meet her daughter’s eyes.
“I was thinking about what you said at the hospital yesterday.”
May frowned. “I can hardly remember anything I said yesterday.”
“About how you wish there was a way to put a stop to all this trouble,” Tiio reminded her, chewing anxiously on her bottom lip.
“Okay,” May said, eyeing her mother curiously. “What about it?”
Tioo glanced away, meeting her own gaze in the mirror and holding it for a moment while she thought. She was trying to decide if she should just keep her mouth shut.
“Mama.” May reached out and touched the tips of her fingers to Tiio’s knee. “What is it?”
“I think I might know something,” her mother answered. She looked back to her daughter. There was something distant in her eyes May couldn’t quite place. “Something that could help you.”
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