It took a bit of time for the tension between May and Mila to dissipate.
May didn’t argue this time when Mila insisted she make herself comfortable while she cleaned up from dinner. From her place on the living room couch, May took deep, calming breaths until her fiery anger subsided into a mild smoulder. It was just one night, she reasoned. By morning she’d be gone and she would never have to see Mila again.
Eventually Mila crept into the living room, a glass of fresh-pressed mango juice in one hand and a full glass of wine in the other. She offered the juice to May with a sheepish smile and eased down onto the opposite end of the couch.
“So,” Mila ventured. “How’s the family? What have I missed while I’ve been hiding out like the shitty person that I am.”
May rolled her eyes. Mila’s self-deprecation wasn’t going to get her very far with her.
“Everyone’s fine. Omi started school and Ora’s pregnant again.”
“Really?” This news brightened Mila’s mood right away. “She must be so excited! When is she due?”
The fact that Mila had been Ora’s friend before she and May fell into one another made her safe mutual ground. May shared her suspicion that baby number two would be a girl, which made Mila coo in hopeful agreement. The conversation shifted to Omi – about how much he had grown and about what an adventurous and jubilant boy he had become – and soon May felt herself relax. That child would forever be her weakness.
Before long, the conversation was flowing naturally. They kept their focus on the past, digging up old memories from their days as high schoolers and dancers, skirting artfully around any subject matter that might disrupt their fragile truce.
“Listen,” Mila said, waving her near-empty glass between them. “Before I have anymore to drink how about I help you with your hair?”
May blinked at her. “What about my hair?”
“You have this one shaved line on the side,” Mila pointed to May’s scalp. “I’m guessing you had stitches from your accident?”
Trailing her fingertips across the soft fuzz around the fresh scar on her head, May considered what she must look like. After the attack, vanity had been the furthest thing from her mind. Only now that she was on the mend did she realize how strange she probably looked. She nodded slightly.
“Nurses never seem too concerned about the fact that you have to live with that hair after they shave it, do they?” Mila spoke from experience. May could still vividly remember the summer Mila split her head open by falling off the handlebars of May’s bike. They had never done that again.
“I don’t think there’s much you can do about it.”
“Sure there is,” Mila chirped, sitting up straight. “I could even it out. It would be drastic but really cool. A badass new look for the badass new you!”
May wasn’t quite convinced. Cutting all her hair short all those years ago had been dramatic enough, and even that had been the result of a full-blown panic attack.
“Come on,” Mila urged as she got to her feet. “It’ll be a big change but it won’t be worse than what you’ve got now, right? Besides, hair grows out. You’ll be fine.”
Still not completely sold, May followed Mila to the ensuite bathroom and sat timidly on the chair Mila dragged over from her vanity. Gently, Mila combed her fingers through May’s already voluminous hair and fanned it out across her shoulders.
“What I’m thinking is we shave this entire side and make it even,” Mila explained, outlining the scarred side of May’s head from her part to her ear and back. May’s eyes bulged.
“You’re kidding me.”
“I’m not! The style has an edgy glamor to it. It’s actually pretty cute.”
“Why don’t I just change what side I part my hair on instead?”
Mila let out a huff and rearranged May’s hair to that the bulk of it fell over the already buzzed path. “I dunno. I can still kind of see it, but it’s your call.”
May sighed. Who was she trying to impress these days, anyway?
“Fine, let’s do it.”
Using her husband’s electric razor, Mila set to work, carefully gliding the buzzing instrument along May’s scalp. All the while May kept her eyes clamped shut for fear that watching would make her lose her nerve when it was already too late to stop.
“And done!” Mila said, her voice loud with excitement. “What do you think?”
Slowly, May opened her eyes. Mila hadn’t been wrong, it was edgy – perhaps, May worried, too edgy for someone like her to pull off. But as she turned her head this way and that, she was surprised to find that it suited her.
“I really do look like a badass!” she marvelled, tracing her scar with her finger.
“Right?” Mila laughed. “Okay, let me try something else.”
This time May kept her eyes open, watching Mila’s hands work in the mirror as she wove the hair on the opposite side of her head into a tight braid that lead from her temple to the back of her head.
“So, what’s on the mainland?” Mila asked as she focused on her work.
It was a big question, and one May wasn’t completely sure how to answer. She wasn’t about to tell Mila everything about the Stars and WIND and the Loyals, so she settled for a half-truth instead.
“There’s a girl.”
Mila paused for a split-second – nearly imperceptible had May not felt the way her fingers stopped their patterned rhythm. “Oh?”
“She had to deal with some family issues.” It wasn’t so far from the truth, particularly when one considered that WIND had once been something of a surrogate family to Audrey. “I’m going to meet back up with her.”
“Why didn’t you go with her? Not quite at that point of the relationship yet?”
The question struck a nerve. “It was just some heavy stuff and she didn’t want me to have to deal with it too. So I used this time to come back and see my own family.”
“They must have been happy about that,” Mila said, her eyes flicking quickly to May’s in the mirror and then back again. “Your family, I mean. I’m surprised they let you leave the island in the first place. Do they know about this girl?”
“Wow,” Mila huffed an incredulous laugh. “How things have changed.”
Once finished with the braid, Mila secured the whole look into a ponytail, stood upright and smiled at May in the mirror.
“See? Super cute.”
May watched her cheeks grow rosy in her reflection. “Thanks. I like it a lot more than I thought I would.”
As she crouched to help clean up the fallen mounds of hair, May caught Mila suppressing a yawn out of the corner of her eye.
“I saw that.” She smirked.
“I’m fine,” Mila protested, holding up a small trash can for May to toss the mess into with one hand while waving the other dismissively. “It’s the wine.”
“It’s late, that’s what it is. I should probably get to bed. Tomorrow morning is going to come fast enough as it is.”
“Are you sure?” Mila didn’t even try to hide the disappointment from her expression.
May nodded. “I’m also sure that you should take the bed and I’ll sleep on the couch. I’d probably just end up waking you when I sneak by you in the morning anyway. Where can I find a blanket?”
It seemed Mila knew better than to argue – or perhaps she was realizing just how tired she really was. With another yawn, she pulled a spare quilt and pillow from a closet in the hallway and handed them to May with a small smile.
“Thanks for staying. I know I’m not your favorite person anymore but it really has been great to see you again. I’ve…” she paused, glancing away abashedly. “I’ve missed you, Maybe.”
Clutching the armful of blanket and pillow tightly to her body, May shifted and offered Mila a smile of her own. “I appreciate you giving me a place to crash. And the haircut. Goodnight, Mila.”
May hustled back into the living room and waited for the sound of the bedroom door clicking shut before exhaling. As she made her bed, she couldn’t help but marvel over the person she had become. How long had she spent heartbroken and pining over Mila? Once upon a time that girl had meant everything to her, so much so that she would have done anything for her – and did. For years, despite the hurt and anger, she had doubted her resolve; believing full heartedly that, if given another chance, she would have taken Mila back in an instant. She had loved her – needed her – that much.
Or perhaps, more accurately, she had simply loved herself that little.
As she flopped onto the lumpy pull-out mattress and laid her head on the flat guest pillow, May couldn’t avoid the grim thought that both of the women she had ever dared to love had abandoned her.
But she was wiser now, and she loved herself just enough to recognize the difference between the two. One had left in a foolhardy attempt at being selfless; the other had simply been selfish.
A satisfied smile crawled across May’s face in the dark, and it wasn’t just because the difference between the two had been so stark. Yes, she wanted Em back, but this time it was because she wanted to be with her, not because she needed anyone to save her.
She ran her hand over the short fuzz over her scalp.
“Badass,” she whispered.
“I’m a badass.”
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