May stood frozen in shock as Mila hurried forward and wrapped her long arms around her.
“I can’t believe this,” Mila whispered, her voice high with genuine surprise. “I never thought I’d see you again.”
Neither did I, May thought. She had forgotten how to form words.
Mila stepped back, her hands still gripping May’s shoulders, and peered at her as if she needed to double-check that it was indeed her ex-lover standing before her.
“Oh my stars, May. What happened to your face?”
“I was in a car accident.” May mumbled, repeating the lie she told the ticketing agent and holding a hand over still-tender scar on her chest.
“Oh no, was it the Rocket?”
May’s heartbeat tripped over something so familiar coming out of the mouth of someone who had been a stranger for so long. It had been five years since Kane had blackmailed May into sleeping with him; an unspeakable surrender she had done to protect the girl she loved. Five years since Kane revealed their clandestine relationship to everyone they knew, regardless of how much of herself May relinquished. Five years since Mila had fled from Omea instead of facing the fall-out, leaving May, heartbroken, to suffer alone.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, in the places where May had tried to shove the memories from that time, she knew she was mad at Mila. No, she was furious. But in the here and now, she was hurt and scared. To be standing in front of a familiar face – one she had at one point in her life felt safe and at ease with – helped alleviate her anxiety enough to eclipse her anger.
“No,” May answered after a beat. “The Rocket is still with us.”
Mila laughed, light and polite. “That’s a relief. Kai would be devastated if something happened to that damn van. What are you doing up here?”
I could ask you the same thing. In the early years, when May was still nursing the ache of Mila’s abandonment, she imagined her ex on a different island in the Iewa archipelago. The idea that she might have still been on Hoku this whole time made May’s head spin.
“I’m actually headed to the mainland. I sail out tomorrow.”
“What?” Mila’s eyes stretched wide with disbelief. “Are you kidding me?”
“It’s a long story,” May said with a shake of her head.
A moment of awkward silence passed between them, Mila twisting her hands as she watched May shift on her feet and look anywhere but at her.
“Well, if you don’t leave until morning, would you like to grab dinner with me? It would be really nice to catch up – you could tell me this long story of yours.”
May chewed on the smooth corner of her lip, opposite the side still healing from one of Melanie’s blows.
“I don’t know. I kind of need to find a hotel for tonight. My sailing is super early.”
“You could stay at my place if you want,” Mila blurted, seemingly as much to her own surprise as May’s. “I live pretty close to the shipyards, so you wouldn’t have far to go in the morning.”
Bad idea, May’s mind screamed. Nope, nope, nope.
But as a loud-talking group of teenagers pushed past them, May felt her anxiety flare. How long had they been standing out here in the open? The idea that a mystery Loyal might have spotted her made her blood run cold; the idea of being alone right now, even more so.
Mila saw May’s hesitation. “I have a pull-out couch. We could make dinner there and catch up. I promise not to make it weird.”
May sighed, shrinking under the curious gaze of a passing couple who gestured at May’s injured face and whispered to one another.
May had anticipated a cramped little apartment, not the cozy two-storey home Mila led them to.
“Home sweet home!” Mila sang as she unlocked the door and stood back to welcome May inside. “You can put your bag down anywhere. Can I get you something to drink?”
“Just water please,” May answered, dropping her pack by the door and following Mila into the kitchen like a skittish toddler.
They set to work on dinner, Mila insisting that May sit and relax and May outright refusing. As they filled their plates, Mila opened a bottle of wine, filled a glass for herself, and then raised an eyebrow at May.
“Are you sure I can’t tempt you?”
May’s mouth salivated but she shook her head resolutely. She had done such a good job all day and besides, she felt it was smarter to keep her wits about her.
They retired to a modest dining room with a wide picture window that faced a lush, well-tended yard on one side and a wall of framed pictures on the other. May faced the window so she could watch the pink-faced birds chase each other through the trees while she avoided Mila’s gaze. The conversation was strained, neither really willing to be the first to dive into deeper waters.
“So, the mainland, huh?” Mila ventured carefully.
“That blows my mind. Your family must be freaking out.”
“It’s not my first time.” May scrapped what was left of her meal absentmindedly around her plate. She had been hungry, but her discomfort made it difficult to finish. “I’ve been living on the mainland for over a year now.”
Mila nearly choked on her sip of wine. “Maybe, are you kidding me? Where? Why?”
Rubbing her palms along her thighs, May forced a tight smile. She used to love the sound of her nickname coming out of Mila’s mouth. Now it just sounded wrong. “Like I said, it’s a long story.”
“I’d love to hear it, if you’re willing to share.”
May turned to look at Mila for the first time since they’d sat down. She sat at the head of the table to May’s left, the fading light of the day cascading through the wide window framing her in an angelic haze. Something caught May’s eye, glinting on Mila’s left hand.
A sizeable diamond was perched on her ring finger. May twitched with surprise, unable to look away before Mila realize what she was fixating on.
Mila looked down at her hand and flushed.
“Oh,” was all she said.
Turning gingerly in her seat, May finally looked at the pictures covering the wall behind her. Almost every single one featured Mila’s beautiful, happy, smiling face with a handsome man at her side. He appeared to be a bit older – perhaps by about ten years – and based on the large print of the two in the middle of the wall with him in a fresh suit and Mila glowing in crisp white, he was likely her husband.
May looked back at Mila, her mind racing.
Mila pulled her hands off the table and hid them on her lap as if putting the ring out of sight would do anything. “I am. His name is Temu. He’s not here right now though – he travels to Topaia a lot for business. He – we – own a store in town so he goes over to source product. Isn’t that cool.”
Trembling, May got to her feet. “When?”
“About a year after I left.” Mila sounded only inches tall. Her lovely face was crestfallen with shame. “I had nothing when we met. He doted on me, gave me a fresh start. He’s good to me.”
“You’ve been here the whole time.”
It was meant to be a question but in truth, May didn’t need to ask. Of course Mila had been on Hoku the entire time, only a couple of hours away. And she had started a new life, with a man who spoiled her, while May had languished in a town that hated her; while May paid for the things she had done for her.
“May, I’m sorry.”
Now May was angry.
“Do you have any idea what they did to me? Did you ever stop to wonder what was going to happen when you ran away and left me there?” May’s voice raised steadily until she was shouting, her hands balled into tight fists at her sides. “I did everything you asked me to, Mila. I let him touch me and hurt me to keep you safe.”
“I know, I didn’t-“
“You turned on me like everyone else.” May was quaking with years of pent-up hurt and rage. “And then, when things got worse, you abandoned all of us. Did you think it was just going to stop? Do you have any idea what I went through while you were up here starting over with some guy? Did you even care?”
A sob escaped Mila’s throat, signalling a flood of tears. “May, I am so, so sorry. I was afraid and impulsive. I can’t even begin to imagine what I put you through.”
“You’re right,” May spat back. “You can’t.”
Mila rose and came to May with her hands out in surrender; desperate and pleading. “Not a single day has gone by where I haven’t thought about you and felt horrible about what I did. You have to believe me, please. Is there any way you can forgive me?”
May searched her with glistening eyes. She had learned so much about herself and love in the years since Mila’s betrayal. She had also learned a lot about forgiveness, and so she shook her head sadly.
“No,” she said quietly. “I don’t think I’m ready for that. Coming here was a mistake. I should go.”
She turned, making a beeline for the front door. Mila rushed after her and took May’s hand in hers.
“Please, Maybe, don’t go.” Mila begged through her tears. “Giving you a place to stay is the absolute least I can do.”
“I don’t owe you peace of mind, Mila.”
“I know, you don’t owe me anything.” Mila clasped both hands around May’s palm and softly pulled her closer. “You don’t have to forgive me, and you don’t have to stay if you really don’t want to. But it would be amazing if you could at least give me the chance to try to make things up to you. I want to help.”
May pressed her lips into a tight line, ignoring the ache from the still-healing split. As hurt as she was, grudges and cruelty didn’t come naturally to her. It was hard for her heart not to soften just slightly at the genuinely look of remorse on Mila’s face. The fact that it was getting steadily darker outside didn’t help.
“I’ll even sleep on the couch,” Mila said in a small, hopeful voice. “You can have the bedroom all to yourself so you can get plenty of rest before your trip. Please, just let me do this for you.”
Letting out a deep exhale, May relented.
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