The sun was rising as the Rocket rumbled into a parking lot at the north shore shipyards. May carefully lifted her pack onto her shoulders, locked the van, and tucked the key up in the wheel well.
“Thank you,” she whispered to the old junker of a vehicle with a light pat on the hood. How many times had this decrepit van gotten her exactly where she needed to be? “Kai will be here for you tomorrow.”
In the ticketing office a tired man eyed May warily as he took her money for the fare.
“What happened to your face, kid?”
May fidgeted. As if on cue, a car honked outside, giving her a story.
The man whistled between his teeth. “Musta been a bad one.”
“Could have been worse, I guess,” May said without looking him in the eye.
With her boarding pass tucked safely away, May considered her options. She had 24 hours to kill until her sailing; too much, in her opinion. As easy as it would have been to wait with the Rocket, she didn’t want to risk it in case her family decided to ignore her note and came looking for her. Besides, the idea of being alone didn’t sit well with her. She had kept her mind busy for the past week and a half by obsessing over her plans but now that she was here, there was nothing to stop the fear from creeping in.
Her brain fixated on how truly alone she was, and the thought made her feel vulnerable. Casting anxious, furtive glances over her shoulders, May sought out a place to wile away the hours – a place with people, but also one where no one could come up on her unexpectedly. Jittery and suspicious of every face that passed her, May wondered how long it would take to feel safe again.
Maybe this was a bad idea, she thought. Melanie might still be following me. She could be anywhere.
As strangers filtered around her on the sidewalk, May shrank into herself. Everyone felt too close. Her breath quickened; she needed to find a safe place.
She walked until she spotted a restaurant up ahead. But the relief she felt was short lived: there was someone behind her. May didn’t dare risk looking back, but she could feel a body following too closely. Her heartbeat thudded so hard she felt it in her ears. Panic rose and she picked up her pace – faster and faster until she broke into a full sprint to the restaurant’s door.
From the threshold she chanced a glance back only to find a teenaged boy wearing an oversized pair of headphones, completely engrossed in whatever was happening on his phone; he hadn’t even noticed her take off.
“Get a grip, May,” she admonished herself under her breath.
“Table for one?”
May let out a yelp as she spun to face a startled waitress.
“Is everything okay?” the waitress asked, glancing over May’s shoulder as if she might find something lurking there.
“Yes, sorry. I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t notice you standing there. A table for one would be great. Somewhere in the back if possible.”
The waitress lead May to the back of the restaurant and gestured to a small table.
Too exposed, May fretted. Her fingers twitched, longing for rings to fidget with the way she always had when she found herself overcome with nervous energy.
“What about there?” May pointed to an empty horseshoe booth in the corner that was clearly meant for at least four people. The waitress scowled but her eyes lingered over the bruises on May’s face and she gave a resigned shrug.
With a feeble mumble of thanks, May scooted to the furthest end of the booth and drew up her hood. From here she had a good view of the entire restaurant but knew she was tucked away enough to be relatively out of sight. She let out a slow, calming breath and pulled the laminated menu foreward.
Her eyes trailed over the food and drink offerings with disinterest. Though nothing appealed to her, May knew she had to order something if she didn’t want to piss off her already grumpy waitress. She flipped the menu to find a full page of wine, beer, and cocktail options and something inside her ached. The idea of drinking away her anxiety felt like the perfect antidote, and May was startled by how badly she wanted it. Thankfully it was far too early; the restaurant wouldn’t be serving alcohol for hours. When the waitress returned, May ordered a light breakfast and tea. She privately resolved to ignore the booze menu for the rest of the day.
The day passed at an excruciating pace. To fill the time, May pulled out the curling notepad she had been using to keep her thoughts and plans for her solo mission. Multiple pages were dedicated to the litany of questions that continued to come to her as she tried to imagine how she was going to find a missing wishing star that an entire army’s worth of Loyals hadn’t been able to locate for over two decades.
What do I do if the Murder can’t help me?
Where did the Loyals take Dawn and Oliver?
What does a wishing star even look like???
She kept lists of places she could look and other people she might be able to turn to for help.
Former criminals from the cirque (pretty sure Lenore did time for murder)
Sean and wife (former cops) – would they be allowed to help?
Lunch time rolled around and the waitress hovered around the booth, watching May with a mix of curiosity and bitterness. May ordered a sandwich and more tea, settling up her tab with a better than fair tip that seemed to brighten the waitress’ mood and bought May a couple more hours in her vinyl formica fortress.
Eventually a new waiter – or perhaps the manager – stepped up to the table.
“I’m sorry, miss. We’ve got a bigger party that needs a table and you haven’t ordered anything in a while. Would you mind if I moved you to the bar?”
May couldn’t blame him for wanting to move her, and she appreciated that he wasn’t simply kicking her out. But as she eyed the bar, the idea of sitting with her back to the room and in such tantalizing proximity to four icy draught taps made her shake her head. With a word of thanks, she gathered her things and slipped out of the booth. It felt as if every pair of eyes in the restaurant followed her as she wove toward the door, through the waiting party, and out into the blinding afternoon sunlight.
“Now what?” May murmured to herself. All around her obliviously happy or distracted people came and went without sparing her so much as a sideways glance. She checked the time – perhaps she’d be able to find a hotel that would let her check into a room early. Her mind conjured up an image of a neat and seemingly empty room. Would it be secure enough? She played with the idea of dragging the bedding into the bathroom and sleeping in the tub just for the sake of having an extra locking door between herself and the rest of the world.
She meandered through the streets so fixated on finding a place to stay that she only vaguely noticed the faces she saw along the way. An old couple toddling arm in arm and bickering about what to make for dinner, a gaggle of school-aged kids jostling one another as they made their way to the beach, a beauty with dark features whose eyes flicked to May’s as they passed each other.
A light of familiarity sparked in the back of May’s mind; a twinge of nostalgia tainted by heartbreak.
“May?” asked a voice from her past. “Is that you?”
Her body seized in place. There was no way the owner of that velvety voice could really be the person May’s mind jumped to… could it?
Slowly, May turned. The woman had stopped too. She stood stock still, staring back at May with disbelief.
It was her after all: a touch older but with the same entrancing black eyes May had once spent countless hours gazing into and dreaming of.
Her first love.
May could barely find her voice.
What are you doing here?”
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