May waited, biding her time as she worked out a plan.
She wasn’t sure what her mother anticipated in telling May the truth about her birth parents’ and the wishing star. Perhaps she had expected her to rush off, as evidenced by the way Tiio hovered close by during the days and checked in throughout the night. Then again, no one could blame her for being anxious after what had happened at the treehouse. As it was, not even Kai was willing to stay there alone anymore. No matter how hard he scrubbed, he couldn’t get the blood stain off the floor.
“I think I’ll have to change out some of the floorboards,” he told them all over dinner one night. He was playing it cool, but May saw right through him; Kai was shaken, and not one of them blamed him.
He hadn’t gone back to the treehouse since.
And so, surrounded by her family in her now cramped childhood home, May waited.
She waited to gain strength, letting her numerous injuries heal before she made her move. As the days passed her bruises faded from deep blooms of burgundy and purple to ugly shades of yellow and brown. The swelling in her face subsided and the deep, full-body ache she carried ceased to be as all-consuming as it once was – that, or she had simply grown accustomed to the pain.
She mapped out her plan, working through her thoughts in a detective-style map of scrap pieces of paper and spending long hours gazing out into nothing as she played scenario after scenario out in her head. If her birth parents’ were criminals, then she had to get into their world if she had any hope of tracing their path through their final year of freedom.
The deep-rooted secrets of the criminal underworld were very much a mystery to May, but lucky for her she happened to know an entire garage full of people who just might be able to help her out.
When May returned to the hospital for her one-week follow-up, the doctor carefully removed the stitches from her scalp but frowned at the wound on her chest.
“This can be a tricky spot,” he told her. “Just getting in and out of bed or changing your clothes can pull at the sutures. Let’s give this one a little more time, just to be safe. Come back in three days and we’ll see where we’re at.”
Three days. May had a timeline now: three days to get her affairs in order and then she’d be gone.
She spent those three days making covert arrangements for her trip. When her mother was distracted with lunch, May crept away with the excuse that she had a headache and needed a bit of quiet. Once she was alone, she called the shipyards on the north shore and discovered the next passenger ship sailing for the mainland would be two days after her appointment. It wasn’t ideal, but given her condition she was in no shape to trade work for faire this time. She would just have to manage. Choosing what to bring posed its own challenge. Even after the stitches were removed she’d still have to be careful about how much weight she lifted for at least a month. That meant she had to pack light and carefully; only the essentials would do.
The day of her next appointment came and this time the doctor deemed her chest to be healed enough to remove the sutures. She was given stern rules about aftercare and warnings about re-injury and sent on her way.
“Do you think you could drive me out to the treehouse?” she asked of her brother that evening after dinner. “I’d like to grab the rest of my things.” In her mind she could see her backpack slumped next to the bed where she had left it before the attack. She needed it for her journey.
Kai shifted in his seat, his eyes betraying his discomfort at the idea of facing that house. He had only been back once, the day after May was hospitalized so he could clean up and grab some clothes for the two of them; he’d been sleeping in his childhood bedroom ever since.
“Please?” May pressed gently when Kai took too long to answer.
He relented with a sigh. “I guess I have been wearing the same two outfits all week. Sure, let’s go.”
They drove along the narrow packed sand road to the treehouse in tense silence. May could sense the quick, darting looks her brother shot her way as he surreptitiously kept an eye on how she was handling returning to the place where she had been so violently attacked. She didn’t blame him for worrying; had she not been fixated on a mission, May would likely have been too anxious to be there at all.
For the first time since she had built it, May found the treehouse to be cold and unfamiliar. Fear crept up her shoulders as she and Kai stepped into the dark main room.
“I did the best I could,” Kai said, his voice just above a whisper as he gestured to the place where he had found May beaten and bleeding. He had righted all the furniture and cleaned up the debris. The only sign anything had happened was the dark brown stains of dried blood that haunted the floor like unaffixed shadows. “I know I shouldn’t have left the door unlocked but I saw that you forgot your key and I didn’t-”
“It’s okay. You don’t have to justify anything to me, Kai. I’m the one who stormed out when you were just trying to help me.”
May took small, tentative steps toward the stains and regarded them like wild animals; unpredictable and untamed. Seeing it now, May felt like an outsider looking in; as if the blood that left the marks belonged to and the violence that led to them had happened to someone else. She felt like a ghost.
“Are you okay, Maybe?” Kai’s words wrenched her back to the present. She shook her head, taking a sharp inhale to clear her mind.
“Sorry, I zoned out,” she replied, licking her lips. “I still can’t believe it happened.”
“Neither can I. I’m freaked out and it didn’t even happen to me. I can’t imagine what you must be feeling.”
With a hollow laugh, May looked back at the bloodstains. “It wasn’t supposed to happen to me, either. Em sent me away because she thought I would be safer if I wasn’t with her. And somewhere inside I believed her but I didn’t care because I would rather be in danger if it meant I got to stay with her.” She dragged her eyes from the floor to her brother – she had to look somewhere, anywhere else. “And in the end it didn’t even matter. Now I keep wondering whether or not she’s safe. If that’s what they were willing to do to me, what will they do if they ever get their hands on her? What if they already have?”
Kai swept forward and pulled her into a tender hug. May gripped her brother’s shirt and held on as she felt her legs begin to tremble.
“Kai, what if she’s dead?”
“She’s not dead. Don’t do that to yourself.”
Again, they fell into silence. The room loomed around them, the only sounds were the waves and May’s breaths timed to their rhythm.
“You’re going after her, aren’t you?” Kai asked, his voice vibrating in the ear May had leaned against his collar.
“I can’t,” May whispered with a soft shake of her head. She let him make up reasons in his own mind and kept the fact that she had her own job to do to herself.
That night, long after her family had fallen asleep, May eased on her pack and crept from her room.
She wrote a note – You can pick up the Rocket at the shipyards in two days. Please let me do this. – and eased Kai’s keys from a tray by the front door.
The Rocket’s ancient engine roared like thunder in the dead silence of midnight. But if anyone heard it, they didn’t try to stop her. She put the van in gear, pointed it north, and drove off into the darkness.
[ Next ]