The world around May and her mother seemed to freeze. Even her breath hitched in her throat. Only her heartbeat hammered onwards, pounding harder over her mother’s words.
“Are you saying you know something that could help me stop the Loyals?”
Tiio shifted where she sat on the edge of the tub, her face drawn tight with discomfort. “Perhaps. I’m not sure to be honest but it could be a good place to start.”
May’s body tingled with anticipation, like the time Em took her on a roller coaster; fear and excitement sizzling beneath her skin. She leaned in closer to her mother.
“Okay, tell me.”
Her mother sighed and twisted her hands in her lap. “Before you left, your father and I told you about your birth parents and that they were the reason our island was ravaged all those years ago.”
May nodded. She remembered that conversation vividly – after all, it had changed her world.
“The Loyals were probably looking for them because they’d used the wishing star to have me.”
“That’s…” Tiio paused, taking her daughter in with guilty eyes. “Part of the story, yes. But there’s more to it than that.”
May’s heart skipped. “You said they didn’t tell you anything. You said they were trying to keep you safe.”
“I know I did, honey.”
“It seems we all do foolish things when we think it will keep the ones we love safe.” Tiio’s look was knowing. May sat back and let out a slow, calming exhale.
“So, what didn’t you tell me?” May asked.
Tiio held out her hands, palms up, in a gesture of peace. May took them gently and let her mother hold her as she spoke.
“Your birth parents’ names are Dawn and Oliver Gardener. They were criminals; career thieves.”
Shocked, May’s mouth fell open. Of all the things she had expected her mother to say, that hadn’t been one of them.
“According to your mother-”
“Stop,” May interrupted. It was Tiio’s turn to blink in surprise. “You’re my mother. I don’t know these people.”
“Alright then.” Tiio smiled softly. “According to Dawn, they were looking to get out of it. They wanted to settle down, start a family. They wanted an honest life. It was Oliver’s idea to go after one last prize – something he hoped would bring them enough money to get out of stealing for good. So they decided to make their last hit count, and they went after something that had apparently been causing quite a stir. Neither of them realized what they had until after they had stolen it.”
May’s head spun.
“Oh no,” she whispered faintly. “No, no, no.”
Tiio answered with a grim nod. “I’m afraid so.”
“They stole the wishing star.”
“Like I said, they didn’t realize what it was until after they had it,” Tiio reasoned. “All they knew was it was a highly sought after artifact. It was only in the frenzy the theft caused that they discovered ‘the wishing star’ wasn’t just some fancy name – it was an actual star, and the reason everyone wanted it was because it could grant its holder anything their heart desired.”
The implications of this made May’s stomach churn with unease. In her mind, she was back on the beach on the night Em revealed she was part Star. The wishing star’s disappearance, Em had told her, was the catalyst that lead to the Loyals’ rise to arms. If what Tiio said was true, then May’s birth parents were responsible for lighting the match that started the blaze she now found herself up against.
“Did they tell you what they did with it?” she asked, her voice high with desperation.
“At first they had to lay low while they waited for the attention to die down. Oliver wanted to use the star to wish for wealth so they could start their new life right away. But soon enough they started to see what the Loyals were willing to do to anyone who had misused the star’s magic, and they decided they’d be better off getting rid of it.”
Tiio gave May’s hands a squeeze. “That’s when they discovered Dawn wasn’t able to have a child.”
“No,” May groaned, dropping her head. She knew what happened next and she hated it; the fact that her existence was so tighten woven into such a terrible story made her nauseous.
“Come now,” Tiio crooned as she softly traced her fingers through the hair on the unmarred side of May’s head. “It’s not all bad news. After all, we wouldn’t have you if they hadn’t used that star.”
“I know, but…” May couldn’t bring herself to continue her thought.
“Needless to say, when Dawn became pregnant with you, the stakes were higher than they’d ever been. Oliver had a much harder time selling the wishing star once the Loyals started their rampage. So they went into hiding.”
“Which is how they wound up here.”
“How do you know all this?” May asked. “Given the circumstances, I’m surprised Dawn trusted anyone enough to tell them all this.”
Tiio tipped her head, her eyes growing unfocused as she reviewed her memories. “She didn’t at first. Neither of them did. They kept to themselves when they first came to the island. But Dawn was pregnant and wanted a midwife. That’s how we met. She was such a charming woman, so funny and bright. We became friends straight away. Oliver even started helping your father at work, so soon we were spending all our time together.” She smiled at May, her eyes shining ever so slightly. “You look just like her.”
This was the first time May’s mother had ever said anything like that to her. Even before she had given up on asking about them, Tiio had never once given any information on May’s birth parents. To hear now that she had grown into Dawn’s likeness made May curious about her for the first time in ages.
“You were nearly due when the Loyals came to Hoku,” Tiio said, her voice a touch sadder now. “Our best guess is that Oliver’s attempts to sell the wishing star had put them both on their radar. Those monsters laid siege, tearing this island apart looking for them. Your father and I felt so betrayed when Dawn and Oliver confessed what they had done. But they were our friends, and Dawn was due any day. So we helped them hide.”
A single tear slipped from Tiio’s eye. May reached out to wipe it away.
“Then what happened?”
“The Loyals were relentless and the people of Omea were terrified. We knew it was only a matter of time before either we were discovered or someone turned us in, so Dawn and Oliver begged for just enough time to get you to safety, then they promised to turn themselves in. Your father and I agreed to take you in, Omea agreed to wait, and once you were born, Dawn and Oliver kept their promise.”
May swallowed. “What happened to them?”
“I don’t know exactly,” Tiio admitted sheepishly. “The Loyals left the island with them. I’ve never heard from either again.” She sighed and touched her fingertips to her lips. “That’s the real reason why the people of this place have always been so hard on you. It’s not because your parents are from the mainland – it’s because too many of them remember what they brought with them. You remind them of a frightening time.”
“What about the wishing star?” May was long past caring about why the people of Omea never really embraced her as one of their own. She had more important things on her mind. “Did they tell you what they did with it?”
“No. I’m not sure if they managed to find a buyer or if they hid it. All they told us was that they were done with it. And that’s the whole truth this time.”
For a few moments, neither spoke. Tiio watched May as she mulled over this new information.
“I know it’s not much,” Tiio said quietly, breaking the heavy silence. “Maybe it won’t actually help at all, but I thought you deserved to know.”
She was right – it wasn’t much to go on. But it was more than May could have hoped for. Knowing who stole the wishing star was a starting point she hadn’t had before. If she could find a way to dig into her birth parents’ criminal past, perhaps she could figure out what they had done with the wishing star.
And if she could find the wishing star, perhaps she could put an end to the Loyals’ crusade once and for all.
Rising gingerly to her feet, May placed a tender kiss on her mother’s forehead.
“Thank you, mama. I’m glad you told me.”
“Are you angry with me?” Tiio asked in a small voice.
May cocked her head curiously. “What for?”
“For not telling you sooner.” Tiio’s voice cracked, her lip trembling perilously as she took a moment to collect herself. “All this time we thought we were keeping you safe when we were just holding you back.”
Standing was exhausting, so May lowered herself back down beside her mother.
“It’s like you said,” she reasoned. “Sometimes we make poor choices when we’re trying to protect the people we care about.”
Her mind wandered to Em, and for the first time in a long time, the thought of her made May smile.
“The things we do for love.”
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