The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Fifty One

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[ CW: Strong language, alcoholism and sexual abuse mentions ]


May’s original plan had been to head to the bar and spitefully drink herself into oblivion.

Fuck Kai. Fuck him and his humiliating assumptions. She was an adult – she could handle her grief however she damn well wanted.

She made it to the bar just fine, but it wasn’t until she was seated at a small table on the oceanfront patio that she realized she had stormed off without any money.

Her stomach grumbled as if to punctuate her poorly considered temper tantrum.

“Great,” she grumbled, dropping her forehead into the cradle of her hands.

After a minute or two she heard the chair across from her scrape back.

“Hey, sister,” said Lenaia’s voice in the soft, pitying tone May was growing tired of hearing from everyone. “How’re you holding up?”

Lenaia usually didn’t cross the bar, but when she spotted May blow in like a typhoon, rage etched across her features, she waved off the regular waitress and went to investigate for herself.

“Kai and I had a fight,” May answered without lifting her head. “I’m here to cool off.”

“Ah,” Lenaia acknowledged. “Do you wanna talk about it?”

“He thinks I have a drinking problem.”

“Well, that answers my next question. How does a glass of water sound?”

“That would be nice.”

The chair scraped again and Lenaia gave May’s shoulder a squeeze as she walked away.

May nursed that glass of water for a long time. The ice cubes melted as she took her time, thinking long and hard about the messy state of her life between sips. The longer she sat, drawing patterns on the table with the condensation skimmed off the glass, the more foolish she felt.

She was rubbing her eyes and considering her options when she heard the chair across from her pull out a second time.

“Sorry for hogging the table,” she mumbled, dropping her hand from her eyes. “I appre-“

The words froze on May’s tongue.

It was not Lenaia who had sat down across from her.

It was Kane.

Leaning back leisurely in his seat, May saw the only things about him that had changed were his hair, which he now wore shaved close to his skull, and a scar above his eyebrow. He looked at her the same way he always had: a mix of predatory pleasure and disgust, somehow playing out at the same time. May’s stomach rolled, her extremities tingling with the basic urge to flee.

Countless restless nightmares filled with this man and the things he had done to her had haunted her since leaving this place. Beads of sweat formed on her brow and, as the weight of her aloneness started to drag her down, she mentally reached for some kind of lifeline. What she found was a memory of Connor in the dark, draping a blanket over her shoulders. His soft voice coaching her through the waking terror and confessing they two were very alike in an innately personal way. They were survivors.

May pretended she could feel that blanket now and Connor at her side – as invisible to her now as he had been that night. It made her feel less alone; it made her feel brave.

“Looks like the rumors are true after all,” Kane said with a lazy smile. “Mainland May came crawling back to the island, just like we knew she would.”

Something inside May flashed. She remembered this about him; the way he’d talk about her like she wasn’t sitting right in front of him. In her memories she could remember exactly how it used to make her feel; small and insignificant. Except this time – many months and what felt like a lifetime of experiences later – all it did was irritate her. This sensation, at first surprising, gifted her a sense of clarity. Now she saw it for exactly what it was: a power move designed to dominate, and she wasn’t interested. In much the same way that she didn’t care about winning back Omea’s favor, she also didn’t feel she owed this man anything.

“Hello to you too, Kane,” she drawled. She lifted her glass to take a sip but didn’t break eye contact with him once.

Kane narrowed his gaze. It was truly something how quickly he could switch from steady to vicious, but by now May had seen far worse.

“You have a lot of nerve coming back here,” he told her, his voice low and dangerous.

A laugh, sharp and unexpected, burst up from somewhere deep inside her, surprising them both.

“I don’t give a shit,” she said, and she meant it.

May revelled in the brief flicker of confusion she saw in Kane’s eyes. She wasn’t the same girl he once blackmailed and abused, and he knew it.

“Excuse me, miss?” said a large man as he sidled up to the table. May recognized him as the bar’s bouncer. “Is this man bothering you?”

His eyes flipped to Kane and watched him with unease. Perhaps he knew Kane, maybe they were even friends, and having to do his job was making him uncomfortable. May looked past Kane’s head and saw Lenaia’s horrified face peering from the doorway that lead inside. She must have sicced the bouncer when she realized what was happening.

Taking a deep breath, May sized up Kane as she eased back in her seat. “No, it’s alright.”

The surprise between the two men was palpable. But as a shark-like grin slid across Kane’s mouth, the bouncer took no time in hustling away without so much as a grunt in reply.

“Just a year abroad and you come back thinking you’re invincible, huh?” Kane sneered. He took May’s water glass and helped himself to two deep swallows, nearly draining it. Another power move. May made a point of rolling her eyes.

“You have no idea,” May said, locking his gaze with hers.

Kane considered her for a moment. “I’m sure you’ve heard the things people are saying about you, especially since you’ve been back.”

“I genuinely don’t care.”

“Really? I seem to recall you caring an awful lot. So much so that you were willing to do anything.” He smirked. “And I do mean anything.”

May’s heart hammered. She had to focus to keep the color from rising in her face and her vision from swimming. She took a beat to collect herself.

“How’s that limp treating you?” she asked, her voice cold.

Kane’s face twisted into a scowl. “You’re proud of that, huh?”

“I think karma finally caught up with you.”

“You believe in karma, do you?” He leaned as far forward as the table would allow. May had to steel herself not to flinch at his proximity. “I guess you’re getting yours too then. Everyone knows you came back alone.”

For a split second, May lost her composure. She barely felt it, but she knew it must have shown on her face because Kane smiled, satisfied.

“Your freak monster girlfriend dumped you so you had to come crawling back, tail between your legs.” Kane licked his lips, looking her over in the salacious the way he always used to. May felt like she had been doused in ice water. “It’s like you weren’t listening when I told you that the person you are is a mistake. No one can love you, not really.” He set his crossed forearms on the table and smirked at her. “That’s what you get for not letting me fix you.”

In an instant May was transported back years. She was intensely aware of her hair, the same length it had been when Kane would coil it around his fist and use it to press her face into the floor, immobilizing her for his pleasure. Face down, blind with tears, his voice was burned into her mind.

Stop crying,” he had said then, just like every time. “I’m doing you a favor. I’m going to fix you, May. You’re going to learn to like it.”

Back in the present, different emotions hit May in waves. First came the fear. Bile rising in her throat from a stomach filled with molten lead.

But then came the anger, and compared to the surge of fear, this one hit her like a tidal wave. May could feel herself shaking. She took a deep breath in through her nose, exhaling through her mouth, and then repeated the motion. She let her furious glare burn into Kane’s self-satisfied smirk.

“What is it that you want, Kane?” she asked in a voice as steady as she could muster.

Kane shrugged, acting a part.

“Listen, thanks to you and that bitch, the last year of my life has sucked. I’m man enough to admit that. But if you think you’re gonna come back here all high and mighty, you’re in for a rude wake up call. I’m just reminding you of your place. Don’t forget who you are.”

“You have no idea who I am,” May replied, leaning in close enough to take back her space. “You didn’t then and you certain don’t now. Do you think I’m weak just because Em’s not here?” She stood, deeply aware that everyone who had been craning to eavesdrop was now gaping at them without even trying to be subtle. “Kane, I have been places and seen things you can’t even begin to imagine. I’ve also done things and squared off against people who make you and your bullshit mind games look like school yard bullying.”

She rounded the table so quickly Kane didn’t even have time to react before she was at his side, bearing down on him with unwavering presence. Every patron on the patio held their breath.

“I’ve got more important things to worry about than what you or anyone else in this town thinks of me. In fact, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.” She leaned down, one hand on the back of his chair and the other gripping the edge of the table, trapping him in his seat.

“You are nothing to me. You are nothing more than a single grain of sand in this whole big world and I am not afraid of you anymore.”

She turned and took a few steps away from the table, then paused. Glancing over her shoulder, she could see that Kane was stunned.

“You have no power over me,” she told him. “Now, get the fuck out of my life.”


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Fifty

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[ CW: masturbation mention (clean), problem drinking/alcoholic tendencies ]


Sleeping in Kai’s room was a confusing experience for May.

There was the familiarity, the understanding that it had once and for many years been hers. But now the pillows smelled of sawdust and sea salt – the combination of which had always reminded May of her brother – and the yeasty aroma of Kai’s home-brewed beer as it wafted through the floorboard. Despite Kai’s assurances, she still hadn’t gotten used to it. Still, the smells coupled with things like the mountain of mens t-shirts stacked on the dresser and a second surfboard wedged next to the bed helped May subtract Em’s memory from the room just enough to let her sleep.

By morning, however, May was right back where she started. Waking up with Em on her mind became May’s normal. Some mornings she was rendered immobile with heartsickness, the space beside her too vast and cold to bring any comfort. Other mornings she woke up angry. On these days she’d tell herself she should have accepted Lety’s offer to stay with the Murder. Perhaps something might have bloomed between the two of them, and wouldn’t that have taught Em for cutting her out of the rescue mission and abandoning her?

It would only take a moment of entertaining that line of thinking – of trying to spitefully imagine letting Lety’s lips press into hers – before shame and an unimaginable sense of loss chased the anger away. Yes, she was mad at Em and, no, she still didn’t believe in the plan. But she loved that girl so much it hurt and too much to imagine doing anything other than wait.

Some mornings, after hyper-real dreams of Em’s skin and hands and mouth, May would be awoken by a throbbing between her legs. She missed Em’s body against hers; the way the Star would worship her like a goddess while leaving paths of bruising kisses up her thighs. The memory always left May aching until she slid her hand under her clothes to finish what dream Em had started.

Some day, she promised herself in the wave of bliss that followed when she finished, they would share those moments again. If she was patient, then one day she wouldn’t have to wake up without her.

*

The days passed in a blur. Kai was usually gone to work with their father by the time May emerged, so she took her time deciding how to spend the long hours stretching out like miles between herself and the vague destination she was waiting to reach. It was hard for her to imagine really settling in – she had no idea if her return to Omea would be long or short-lived – so she spent her days avoiding anything that felt too permanent.

She made a point to visit Omi every day, even if it was just to share lunch with him. But as time passed her mother’s gentle patience with her morphed into a concerned pressure that May didn’t want to deal with.

“What’s your plan, May?” Tiio asked one afternoon as they washed dishes side-by-side. “We could find you a job. Perhaps you could get certified to work with me as a midwife. You’re so smart, it wouldn’t take long.”

“No one’s going to want me delivering their babies, mama,” May replied, her voice deadpan.

“Oh, stop it,” her mother fussed on the edge of frustration. “People will trust you again. But you have to try. Check your attitude and remember they‘re just scared of what they don’t understand. You’ll prove them wrong.”

That was as close as her mother came to laying blame, a fact May had to give her some credit for; there had been a time when the accusations would have come first and the compassion second. Still, if there was one thing May had left in the past, it was any desire to grovel for the approval of Omea’s general population.

She wore this defiance like armor when she walked through town. The first time she willed herself to wander the streets alone she had been riddled with anxiety until she witnessed the first set of eyes widen in recognition at the sight of her. It was a look she wasn’t used to getting from the people here; not a sneer of judgement but a gaze of awe.

Of fear.

Quickly, May realized whatever rumors Lenaia had mentioned must have painted May out to be a force to be reckoned with at best, and a villain at worst. May rather liked the peace the notoriety afforded her. These weren’t people she wanted to earn back the respect of – as long as they left her alone, she could be happy.

But whether it was her family or the townspeople, May found she could only spend so much time around either before she desperately needed to be alone. By the afternoons she was usually in the water in front of the treehouse. For hours she would bob in the waves like a bottle cast out to sea; inside, a tightly curled missive filled with heartache and misery. She’d float, rocking gently until she felt the water seep inside and dissolve her feelings like a delicate piece of soaked parchment.

Sometimes she would gather a deep breath, close her eyes and dive deeply just to let herself drift. She tried to use the water the way Em did, letting the warm and dense saltwater block out her senses until all that existed in the world was her and her alone. Even without otherworldly abilities, she could see the appeal, though she wondered how Em could have ever equated May with the ocean. May couldn’t fathom how she could bring another person this kind of peace when she herself was such a raging storm.

She would stay in the ocean until the unnatural sounds of the Rocket rumbling up the beach called her home. Once inside, Kai would dole out cold bottles of beer and the pair would spend the rest of the evening drinking and talking as they watched the sun set.

Kai was the only one in her family who was truly honest with May. Over the course of several nights he admitted to the rumors that had begun circulating after May left the island. He told her about their parents’ fear for her safety, especially when they didn’t hear from her – a point that made May cringe with guilt.

“I think it changed all of us, to be honest,” Kai mused over the mouth of his bottle, thinking back to the fall-out of that final night with a far-off expression.

Their parents had pushed back against anyone who dared speak out against May; they wanted to do right by their daughter, even if she was no longer there to benefit from it. While none of them had seen who threw Kane from the treehouse, the entire Alana family had not been quiet about making sure he didn’t get to play the victim. Ever humble, Kai danced around the idea that he might have been the one to convince Bilo – Kane’s accomplice – into fessing up to the real reason they were at the treehouse in the first place.

“It pisses me off it took this long for people to finally start seeing Kane for the trash fire of a person that he is, but at least people are starting to come around.” Kai told her.

“Then why do they all look at me like I might burn the whole town down?” May asked as she emptied her third drink of the night. “Not that I mind to be honest.”

Kai considered the question for a silent moment. “I think they realized they underestimated you. Especially now; you’ve been places and done things they can only imagine. Plus you’ve, uh, got friends in high places.”

May shook her head. “So what you’re really saying is they’re afraid of her.”

Her. They didn’t say her name anymore.

“Is that such a bad thing?” Kai’s eyebrows raised with curiosity.

May didn’t have an answer for him.

Unfortunately, of all the coping mechanisms May developed since being home, it was the daily drink she took to with the most gusto. A couple beers after dinner became too many over the course of an evening and soon Kai was coming home to find May had gotten started without him. He’d purse his lips, watching his sister gaze glassy-eyed over the water, but he said nothing.

Then one day, after sleeping the morning away, May staggered downstairs and peered at the clock. She groaned when she saw how late it was and, after changing into her swimsuit, she made a beeline for the water in hope that the cool embrace of the sea would be all she needed to wash away the lingering grog.

It wasn’t until a couple hours later when she returned to the house to find something to eat, that she made the discovery. She pulled open the refrigerator door only to find it conspicuously sparse. The shelves that once housed Kai’s beer were bare.

Frowning, May padded down the hallway. She had a pretty good sense of what she was going to find when she opened the closet door but it still surprised her to see the brewing barrel was gone.

“Did you seriously hide the beer from me?” May spat when Kai came home that evening. “Like I’m some kind of teenage delinquent?”

“You mean my beer, that I make out of ingredients I pay for?” Kai snapped back. It was like they were kids again, arguing over shared playthings.

May rolled her eyes, vaguely surprised by how irritated she was by this.

“You said the stuff in the fridge was for drinking,” she said, arms crossed tightly across her chest. “If you didn’t want me to drink it, why didn’t you say something?”

“Because by the time I realized I should I don’t think it would have stopped you.”

His words spilled out in a hurry, as if he didn’t trust himself to say it if he thought about it too long. His face was flushed and his expression pained. May’s mouth dropped open as she blinked back at him in shock.

“What is that supposed to mean?” she asked.

“It means you’re hurting, May,” Kai replied sadly. “And I think you’re looking for comfort wherever you can find it. But drinking yourself numb every night isn’t going to make it go away, not really. I want to help you, Maybe, but not like that.”

May laughed; a short, incredulous sound.

“Are you kidding me?” she demanded forcefully. “You think I’m developing some kind of problem?” She emphasized the word ‘problem’ like it was the punchline to a bad joke.

“Yes,” Kai answered, looking her dead in the eyes. “I do.”

Heat rose across May’s face. She was angry, but more than that she was embarrassed. Maybe Kai was right, but she wasn’t about to admit it to either him or herself, so instead she pushed past him and out the door.

“May, where are you going?” Kai yelled after her as he followed her down the stairs.

“To find some comfort that doesn’t come with judgement,” she snarked back at him. The words felt stupid even as they left her mouth, but the only thing she could think of was to throw his own words back at him.

Behind her, May heard Kai’s footsteps cease. He was letting her go.

And so she stormed off down the beach alone.


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Forty Nine

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[ CW: Strong language ]


The drive out to the treehouse was made in silence.

May rubbed the back of her head and kept her gaze locked out the window as Kai drove his van, the Rocket, down the hardened path of sand she used to walk every day. It felt like a dream.

At first Kai had offered to move out of the treehouse so May could have her old place back, but she refused. After some tense negotiating, she finally agreed to come back with him if only to pacify his guilt and avoid having to spend the night avoiding her parents’ pitying looks.

The Rocket rumbled to a stop and May jumped out before Kai could even turn off the engine. She gazed up at the deck of the treehouse, her stomach tight with both anxiety and nostalgia. From the outside it looked like the exact same place she and her father had built together; the same place she had taken refuge when the people of Omea turned their backs on her. From her place on the sand, May could see the hammock Em slept in when she first arrived. Despite this place – this island – having been May’s home, Em was everywhere; an invisible mark lingering as strongly as the day she left it.

“Ready?” Kai asked, May’s pack hitched up over one of his shoulders.

Exhaling slowly, May nodded and followed him up the stairs.

Once inside, the presence of a man was unmistakable. Though Kai hadn’t made any major changes, there was evidence of his handiwork everywhere. The sliding glass door leading out to the deck – the one Em had demolished in her attempt to save May from Kane that last, fateful night – had been completely replaced. He had also changed the locks on the door and reinforced the windows. His tool box and belt sat in a heap by the couch and a surfboard leaned against the bookshelf on the far wall.

“Sorry about the mess,” Kai mumbled as he swooped to clear a few mounds of discarded laundry from the floor and couch. “I swear I’m usually not this messy.”

“I’ve known you my entire life, Kai,” May replied. “I know that’s not true.”

Kicking off her shoes, May took a few steps into the room and paused. “What is that smell?”

The question elicited a sly grin from Kai.

“Check this out, you’re gonna love it.”

He lead her down the solitary hallway, past the bathroom to the small storage closet where the smell of yeast and other earthy aromas was almost overpowering. With a flourish, Kai pulled open the closet door and yanked on the chain for the light bulb dangling overhead. There, in the space where May had once stored spare bedding and towels, sat a small nondescript barrel.

“I have no idea what I’m looking at,” she admitted flatly.

“I’m brewing my own beer,” Kai boasted, clearly proud of himself.

“In the closet?” May was confused.

“Yeah, come try it.” Kai killed the light and sealed the barrel back in the closet before ushering May to the kitchen. From the fridge he pulled two brown bottles and cracked the caps off in the crook of his elbow.

“When did this happen?” May asked, giving the mouth of her bottle a tentative sniff.

“When I moved in,” Kai said, throwing back a swig from his own. “I’ve always wanted to try it but never really had the space. You get used to the smell, I promise.”

May had always known her brother enjoyed beer but hadn’t realized he harbored a desire to make it himself. Telling herself to keep a straight face no matter how it tasted, she took a sip.

“Oh, wow!” May blinked up at her brother in surprise. “This is actually really good.”

“I know, right?” Kai looked positively delighted with himself. “Lenaia even convinced her boss to start selling it at the bar once I can increase production.”

“Well holy shit,” May marvelled before taking another, more generous drink. Kai boomed with laughter. Beers in hand, they made their way out onto the deck to watch the last of the twilight colors fade.

For the first few moments neither spoke. May sat in the hammock, kicking at the floor with her toes to get it rocking. From the old folding chair, Kai stared out across the ocean. When it became clear May was nearing the end of her bottle, he opened a fresh one and handed it to her without asking. She took it with a crooked half-smile.

“So, what happened?” Kai asked at last, watching his sister throw back her beer like someone drinking to forget. “Why are you really back here?”

“I told you,” May said, wiping her bottom lip with the back of her hand. “Em’s gone. What else was I supposed to do?”

“I guess I just don’t understand.” Kai closed one eye and peered into his bottle with the other, watching the amber beer swirl. “You two were crazy about each other. What the fuck happened?”

May hesitated before answering. She could tell by the hurt in his voice Kai was feeling betrayed – he had really believed in them. A lump rose in May’s throat and she took another drink to wash it down.

“I don’t really want to talk about it,” she replied with a grimace. “I don’t even want to think about it to be honest.”

Kai pressed his lips into a tight line between his teeth. “Are you okay?”

“No,” May said. “Not really.”

She could feel Kai watching her, willing her to look at him and open up, but she ignored him. Despite the plan and the fact that the break-up was all for show, May was as raw as if the whole thing had been real. It felt real even now, after all the time she’d had to process things. If she succumbed to her brother’s pity she had no idea how long it would take to pull herself back together.

She was so tired of crying over Em.

Eventually, Kai gave in. He sighed loudly, and collected the empty bottles.

“Let me go grab a few things from the bedroom and then you can have it,” he said. “I’ll sleep on the couch.”

“I’m not taking your room from you,” May argued defiantly. “Don’t be ridiculous, I’ll sleep down here.”

“Like fuck you will,” was all Kai said in reply. May heard him pick up her pack and, turning, watched him haul it up the stairs to the treehouse’s only bedroom. On any other day she would have put up more of a fight, but right now she was too tired to care.

Finishing her beer, May laid back in the hammock and let the sound of the waves drown out her thoughts. Her mind was almost clear when the first of the night’s stars appeared in the darkened sky.

“You just won’t let me be, will you?” she whispered up to the winking white light. The warm line of a single tear traced its way across her cheekbone and down into her hair. She wiped it away with the cuff of her sleeve and frowned when she realized it was Em’s hoodie she was wearing.

The Star was everywhere.

When she was done being angry, May would come to appreciate that.

For now, she was still too hurt to do anything but cry.

“No wonder I’m so tired.” she murmured before letting the rest of the tears falls.


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Forty Eight

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May didn’t blame anyone for the hush that fell over the room when she stepped into it.

Her family’s expressions ranged from apprehensive to shell-shocked and she was sure her nervous smile wasn’t helping.

“Hi,” she said weakly, giving a little wave.

Her brother, Kai, was the first to make a move. He rose wordlessly from the sofa, stepped across the room in three massive strides, and swept May up into his strong arms, crushing her in a hug.

“I fucking missed you, Maybe,” Kai thundered. His voice, even in tenderness, was as big as he was.

“Hey! Language!” Ora admonished. May peered over Kai’s shoulder to see her sister casting a pointed look at Omi, who laughed behind his hands.

“Omi knows what’s up,” Kai replied. He gripped May around the middle and lifted her up as if she were a child herself. “Auntie’s back!”

“Auntie’s back!” Omi parroted, throwing himself at his uncle’s legs and scaling him like a tree.

“Yes, auntie’s back,” Tiio said, leaning out from the kitchen with a smile across her face. “But dinner’s also ready so quit messing around and come get your plates.”

May was swarmed in the ensuing rush to the kitchen. Arms wrapped her in tight, warm hugs and kisses pressed into her glowing cheeks. The questions would come, but for now May was going to let herself enjoy this sorely needed outpouring of love and affection.

The Alana family filled their plates in a flurry of bodies moving about the kitchen and filed out onto the patio. Plumeria scented the hot evening air and May breathed it in as she settled into her seat and into the comfortable familiarity of this place and the people she was with.

“I can’t believe how long your hair has gotten, Maybe!” Ora chirped as she poured fresh juice into Omi’s glass. “I always liked it when it was long.”

May let out an awkward laugh, twisting a damp lock around her finger. “Things have been so busy I kind of forgot to keep it trimmed to be honest.” She still preferred it short, but she didn’t think that was worth mentioning right now.

“Tell us all about what’s been keeping you busy,” said Gray, Ora’s husband, with a grin. “We’re dying to know what you’ve been up to out there.”

“Are there pirates on the mainland?” Omi shouted across the table through a full mouth.

“Everybody stop,” Tiio said, waving for everyone to hush. “The girl has been resting for days. At least let her get a few bites in first.”

May’s father, Kaleo, nodded in Ora’s direction. “Why don’t you tell your sister the news?”

Ora opened her mouth, but Omi swallowed his mouthful and beat her to it.

“I’m gonna be a big brother!” he exclaimed gleefully.

With a gasp, May darted a wide-eyed glance to her beaming sister.

“Holy shit!”

May slapped a hand over her mouth as Ora blanched. Tiio and Kaleo coughed through their full mouths. Kai howled with laughter. They had never heard her swear before.

“I’m sorry!” May apologized between her fingers.

Kai gave her a hearty slap on the back. “I never thought I’d see the day!” He laughed, then pointed a stern finger at Omi. “Remember: cussing’s only for grown-ups.”

“Anyway,” Ora said, drawing back attention with a gently placed hand on her belly. “It’s true.”

“That’s amazing!” May was in awe. “How far along are you?”

“Only a few months. These flowy dresses won’t be able to hide it for much longer. Your timing is excellent – I’ll be able to use the extra help once baby arrives!”

May was sure Ora meant well by the statement – after all, May had always loved the time she spent with Omi. But the idea of being a nanny again – of going right back to where she was before meeting Em – made her stomach plummet.

“I’m so happy for you,” she said noncommittally. Keeping her smile bright, she looked at Omi. “Are you excited to have a new baby around?”

“Yup!” Omi’s entire body shimmied with joy. He was going to make a great big brother.

“Wow,” May breathed, leaning back in her seat. “What else did I miss?”

Her family filled her in on things like Omi’s first year at “big boy school” and the fact that Kai had moved into her old tree house – a fact he admitted to bashfully, worried his sister might be upset at having been ousted from the home she built. They told her about a terrible wind storm that had blown through in the late summer, damaging many homes in the village.

“It’s certainly kept us busy,” said Kaleo, who owned small construction company – inherited from his own father – that was responsible for having built most of the houses in the village. “But thankfully no one was hurt. Other than that it’s been a pretty quiet year.”

May’s eyes roamed the faces of her family, searching for hints of all the things they weren’t telling her. There were no mentions of the rumors or gossip Lenaia had alluded to or admonishments over her abandonment. No questions about Em. May couldn’t shake the feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“Now that you’re caught up, tell us what you’ve been up to,” Kai demanded as he sat back down with a plate full of second helpings. “I wanna hear everything.”

Everything. May turned the word over in her mind as she decided what exactly she was going to say. She had no doubt her family wasn’t telling her everything, hiding the more worrying details of the past year from her as she was sure they were. To be fair, there was a lot May wasn’t willing to tell them either.

So, she followed their lead and kept it light. Carefully extracting Em from the stories, May told her family about the good times. She painted pictures of towering cities and towns carved into cliff sides, of weeks spent harvesting grapes to be made into wine and about the time she put all her father’s lessons to work when she helped repair a collapsed hostel roof. To Omi she described the powerful trains she used to get from place to place, and Kai nodded approvingly when she mentioned she learned to play guitar. A story about helping a rancher deliver a breech calf made May’s mother – Omea’s longest-serving midwife – smile wide with pride. The more she talked about her adventures on the mainland the easier it was for her to pretend the whole thing had simply been a whirlwind backpacking trip and not the byproduct of being on the run from a murderous group of zealots.

As she talked, her family asked all the right questions – were the people friendly? Had she been scared? What was the food like? Did she miss them? There was a giant white elephant sitting at the table, but they were all doing their absolute best to ignore it.

That suited May just fine. Perhaps it was naive to pretend she’d never have to answer any of the tough questions – that she’d be able to slide back into life on the island as though nothing had happened – but May was willing to try as long as everyone else would let her.

“Auntie?” Omi asked, his chin resting in his hands.

“Yeah, baby?” May still couldn’t get over the fact that he was sitting right across from her after months and months of missing him.

“Where did your girlfriend go?”

The silence was deafening. Even the birds in the trees seemed to hold their breath.

There it was: the question everyone had been dancing around.

Beneath the table, Ora gave Omi a little prod.

“Ow!” He jerked away from her. “What was that for?”

“What did I say about asking that question?” she hissed between clenched teeth, mortification colouring her face.

“It’s okay,” May said. She hadn’t meant to say it; the words seemed to come from somewhere else like an unseen ventriloquist was using her as a dummy. May’s heart sank and her body went numb. The comfortable easiness that had surrounded the dinner table was gone now, though it had been good while it lasted.

She looked at her nephew and forced a sad smile. “She’s gone, baby.”

“Em is gone.”


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Forty Seven

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May awoke slowly; a measured and drawn-out exhale.

As her mind slid from a pool of sleep to the shore of wakefulness, she became aware of someone was watching her. There was a soft depression in the mattress beside her, indicating her watcher was sitting close.

It wouldn’t be the first time May had awakened to find Em watching her sleep, a soft smile on her lips and love shining in her diamond blue eyes.

Reaching out, May fumbled for Em with a blind hand. She wasn’t quite ready to commit to waking up yet, and she kept her eyes closed in protest.

Her hand landed on a small head covered in course, closely cropped hair. May frowned. It felt nothing like the silver wisps of Em’s.

A giggle startled her.

Her eyes snapped open to find a cherubic face grinning back at her.

“Omi!” May gasped, jolting upright. She was completely awake now.

“Hi, auntie!” her nephew chirped, excitement sparkling in his obsidian eyes. He scampered across the mattress and into his aunt’s waiting arms.

May clutched the boy close and blinked away tears of surprise and happiness. She had forgotten everything – WIND, what had transpired between her and Em, the fact that she was back in Omea after so long away – and had been certain she was waking up to just another day with the woman she loved. Half of her heart was already in mourning over the fleeting dream, but she was too overcome by the delight of being reunited with her nephew to grieve too deeply.

“Look at you!” she exclaimed, peppering kisses all over the boy’s face and hair. “You’re all grown up! I almost didn’t recognize you!”

How could a single year change so much? When May had last seen Omi, she saw a tentative, wobbling toddler. But the boy in her arms was a child of stretched limbs, with a sure grasp and defined features protruding through the receding baby fat of his cheeks. He had even lost his first tooth.

“You grew up too, May,” Omi said, cradling her face between his two small hands. His eyes searched her face with youthful curiosity.

May laughed. She hadn’t considered how much she had changed until she reflected on the version of herself Omi was seeing now. He had never known her to have long hair; she had shorn it off when he was still an infant. Now her strawberry curls – tighter now that they had been reintroduced to the island’s humidity – fell past her shoulders. May combed a lock through her fingers; she had always looked older with long hair. And then there was her body. When May lived in Omea, she had only ever been lean and lanky. Any muscle gained through dance hadn’t been enough to counteract the long, doe-like slenderness of her limbs or lack of womanly curves. But a year of travel and experience had given May a new kind of definition. Now she wasn’t just in good shape: she was strong. Omi’s fingers gripped into his aunt’s toned arms and she cradled him with calloused hands.

Yes, it was no wonder Omi looked at May as though she had been gone for a lifetime.

The sound of the door creaking stole both of their attention. Tiio Alana, May’s mother, peered into the room and sighed.

“Omi, what did I tell you about waking your auntie?” she admonished with a softness that said she didn’t really mean it. “She needs her rest.”

“She’s been asleep for two days,” Omi complained, crawling higher onto May and wrapping his arms with a childlike protectiveness around her neck.

May tried to laugh, coughing instead through her nephew’s tight grip.

“It’s okay,” she choked, gently prying Omi’s arms loose. “I was ready to get up anyway.”

With Omi still in her arms, May followed her mother out into the kitchen. She recognized the hazy angle of the sun as it cut through the wide windows – the day was already old.

“Everyone will be here soon,” her mother said as if reading her mind. “Will you help me with dinner?”

May set Omi in a chair at the table with a kiss on his forehead and joined her mother at the counter. She fell into the routine of preparing fresh white fish like she hadn’t missed a single day of doing it, while her mother cut vegetables and fried mounds of steamed rice.

They worked in silence – the only sounds came from their cooking and from Omi, who hummed a meandering tune as he flipped through a copy of the Omea community newspaper; looking at the pages without comprehending the words. It was just like Tiio to try and act as though nothing had changed, but as the minutes ticked by and the hour of everyones’ arrival home after their long days at work grew closer, a tension filled the kitchen. May’s stomach twisted, anxious at the thought of finally facing her family since her return; the day her mother led her past them and tucked her, still weeping, into the bed in the spare room without a single word.

When the air between them had grown so thick that it was hard to breathe, Tiio took May by the elbow and spun her to face her. With a damp cloth, she cleaned May’s hands like she had when she was a child, and kept her eyes fixated on the work until it was done. When she at last met May’s gaze, Tiio’s eyes were glassy.

“Sweetheart, where is she?” she asked in a whisper. Her words weren’t harsh and accusatory – she was simply asking the question on everyone’s mind, colored with a pitying air assumption. “Where is Em?”

May pressed her lips into a tight line. She took a deep breath and looked away.

“She’s gone, mama.”

Tiio squeezed her daughter’s hands. “Did she hurt you?”

A sob rose in May’s throat, but she swallowed it down. She was so tired of crying. So she shook her head instead.

“We just…” May hesitated. She was supposed to tell everyone that she and Em were over – that Em had abandoned her like some mere mortal who couldn’t possibly keep up with a Star like her. But the lie was too close to what May, despite Em’s assurances, feared to be the truth. She worried that, if she said the words out loud, she might actually will them into being like a spell – or a curse.

Her mother caressed her cheek gently. “It’s going to be okay, baby. We’re going to take care of you. Properly, this time. I promise.”

May squeezed her eyes against another threat of tears. She took a couple deep breaths and nodded.

“How about you go get cleaned up?” her mother suggested. “I can finish out here.”

Grateful for an excuse to be alone, May nodded and hurried to the bathroom. Locking the door behind her, she gave her head a shake – she was determined not to cry. May peeled off her dirty clothes with a shudder and twisted the shower taps so the water ran hot. Showers on the freighter had to be short, so May took her time and savored the heat and the luxurious feeling of perfumed soaps in her hair and on her skin. She scrubbed harder than she needed to, but in a way that felt necessary. As the water washed over her raw skin, May imagined the past going with it.

When she stepped out of the tub some time later, May could hear muffled voices on the other side of the door. Her nerves jangled and shame crept up from the pit of her stomach. She should have been excited to see everyone again.

A light knock sounded at the door, making May jump.

“Auntie?” Omi’s voice sounded as though he had his face pressed right up to the door. “Gran asked me to bring you some clothes.”

Oh, right. May glanced down at the ripe pile of her previous outfit and cringed. Opening the door a crack, she caught her nephew trying to stuff a shirt underneath it.

“Oh, hi,” Omi grinned. He lifted the balled clothes in his fists. “These are for you.”

Laughing, May accepted his offering and retreated back into the bathroom to change. Even if the rest of the evening wound up being awkward and uncomfortable, at least she could always count on Omi to make her smile.

Dressing in a hurry, May tried not to think about the fact that the shirt Omi had retrieved from her pack had once belonged to Em, and wiped her palms on her shorts.

“Okay,” she whispered.

Taking a deep breath, she turned the door handle.

“Here we go.”


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Updates: Everything is Exciting!

There has been a lot going on lately so I figured it was probably time for another update round-up post! Here are three quick pieces of news for you:

#1: I finished writing TWATH

Earlier this month I finally completed the first draft of The Wind and the Horizon! I went back and looked – would you believe it’s been just over a year since I started posting book #2 of the Starborn Series? It was both exhilarating and emotional to type those final words; not only is the story in a really intense place plot-wise, but it’s also really weird for me to think about the fact that I only have one book left to write in the series!

#2: I hit my first Patreon goal

As luck would have it, I finished TWATH right in the nick of time. A while ago I set a goal on my Patreon: once I hit a minimum of $50/month in pledges, I would post a new TWATH chapter every single day until the book was finished. I finally hit that goal over the weekend, so as of Monday my subscribers are getting exclusive early access to the final chapters of the book (they’re over a month and a half ahead at the time of this posting!)

If you’re dying to know what happens next, becoming a Patreon subscriber is the best way to find out! Plus, your pledges go toward helping me continue to create stories and art!

#3: I’m going back to school

I didn’t say anything publicly when I decided to apply for Simon Fraser University’s Writer’s Studio program because I didn’t want to have to deal with the embarrassment if I didn’t make the cut.

Well, on Monday I learned that I was not only accepted into this fall’s online campus, but I was also chosen in the first round of applicants!

I’ve had my heart set on attending the Writer’s Studio since first learning about it back when I moved to Vancouver. To have been hand chosen by my mentor for my preferred concentration is such an incredible honour and I cannot wait to start learning more about my craft!

I’ve got a couple more things to share, but I think I’ll give those their own posts.

Until next time, thanks for all the love and support!

The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Forty Six

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Where Lety had been comfortable with driving in silence, Lenaia couldn’t stand the quiet. Unfortunately for her, May didn’t have it in her to answer the litany of questions she threw her way. So to fill the void, Lenaia simply talked.

“I am so glad it was my turn to pick up this month’s shipment for the bar,” she said, talking loudly over the incessant growl of the truck’s engine. “I mean, what are the chances we’d find each other like that?”

May offered a small smile. “I really appreciate you giving me a lift.”

“Of course!” Lenaia replied. “Let’s see, what’ve you missed over the last… year? Have you already been gone a year?”

May nodded, feeling just as amazed as Lenaia sounded. The fact that she was actually back on Hoku after all this time still hadn’t sunk in.

Lenaia eased the truck onto the narrow, two-lane road that connected the north and south halves of the island before continuing. “Your brother moved into your treehouse. Not, like, took it over or anything like that. He just wanted to keep the kids in town from rooting around in it. You know how kids are – they can’t resist the siren song of a treehouse, especially one as badass as yours.”

“I’m glad,” May said, watching the north shore fade in the rearview mirror. “There’s no one else I’d rather have it to be honest.”

“Seriously,” Lenaia agreed with a grin. “Kai’s such a good dude. I’m telling you, if I were even remotely interested in dating, I’d make a move.”

At this, May actually managed to laugh. “I don’t think he’d know what to do with himself.” She peered at Lenaia out of the corner of her eye. “Have your parents finally given up on trying to get you to settle down?”

It was no secret Lenaia’s family had long been exasperated by their daughter’s complete disinterest in finding love. They expected her – like most parents in Omea did of their own children – to get married and bring them grandchildren. But May had known Lenaia her entire life and, as the story went, Lenaia had been kissed once and promptly swore the whole thing off. She didn’t date or pine for romance, and it frustrated her parents to no end.

There was a twinkle of delight in Lenaia’s eyes as she snuck a quick glance back at May.

“Actually, I decided to take a page from your book.”

May blinked, confused. “What do you mean?”

“You standing up to your parents and deciding to run off with Em inspired me.” For a split-second Lenaia looked as close to bashful as she could get. “I told my family to lay off. I have no interest in being in a relationship or makin’ babies and shit. I said if they really loved me, they were just going to have to accept that.”

“You did?” May couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “How’d they handle that?”

“Not great at first, but…” Lenaia hesitated, licking her lips and shooting May another look. “Well, to be honest, after you left I think they were worried I might get a little too inspired, if you know what I mean. I think they realized accepting me as I am was better than losing me altogether.”

Her words wrapped around May’s heart like a vice. She thought of her own parents and wondered if they were regretting how they’d handled things.

“I guess I’ve always been a bit of a cautionary tale, haven’t I?”

“Actually, you’ve become a bit of a legend since you left.”

May raised a doubtful eyebrow. “I have?”

“Oh yeah.” Lenaia was grinning again, her perfectly painted coral lips stretching tall in the corners. “After the spectacular way you disappeared? And what happened to Kane? I gave up on keeping up with all the rumors.”

“What kind of rumors?” May asked, her stomach twisting. Between memories of Kane and the idea of being the subject of gossip once more, she was starting to regret accepting the ride back to Omea.

“All kinds of wild stuff,” Lenaia admitted. “Most people didn’t even realize you had come back at all, but then all the shit with Kane went down.”

The memory of Kane – forcing his way into her home at first and then, when the mental slideshow flicked, the image of him broken and mangled on the beach – made May’s stomach churn. She cracked the window to cool the sweat beading on her brow.

Lenaia pursed her lips, waiting for May to say something. When the silence stretched on, she cleared her throat and continued.

“His buddy, Bilo threw him under the bus.” Her voice took on a softer quality as she spoke. “He told everyone what happened – that Kane made him drive him out to your place and keep watch. People weren’t quite as sympathetic once they knew the truth.”

May let out a bitter scoff. “It figures they’d believe him but not me.”

“No kidding,” Lenaia agreed. “Kane was pretty fucked up though. He still walks with a limp. Some people think it was you who threw him.”

“I wish.”

“After you disappeared, your family was pretty tight-lipped about whatever went down.” The darting glances Lenaia kept throwing May’s way gave away how desperately she hoped to learn the truth. “Some people think you ran away again. Others think Em kidnapped you. There are even some people who think you’re dead.”

“They wish.”

Lenaia shook her head. “No, I don’t believe that.”

“I guess we’ll find out,” May mumbled. They were deep into the interior forest now. The dense foliage reached skyward, blotting out the sun and cooling the air. Between the dim light and the motion of the truck, May felt herself drifting off.

She awoke to the truck coming to a stop. Eyes closed, she listened as Lenaia climbed out, leaving her door open rather than risk waking May when she closed it.

Once May was sure she was alone, she lifted her head and peered out the window. They were at a pull-out off the highway; a rest stop for weary travellers.

“Hey, Kai. It’s Lenaia. You’re not going to believe this.”

May held her breath and eavesdropped on Lenaia’s phone call with her brother. Quietly, Lenaia let Kai know she had found May wandering alone on the north shore.

“I don’t know,” Lenaia whispered. “She’s not saying very much… Huh? Oh, she’s sleeping and I’m trying not to wake her. She looks like she needs the rest to be honest. What do you want me to do?” A pause. “Sure, that’s no problem… Probably another hour? Cool, see you then.”

The door swung open and May clamped her eyes closed again. Gently, Lenaia pulled herself back behind the wheel, clicked her seat belt, and put the truck into drive. Despite the thoughts swirling in her mind, May was quick to slip back into the lull of sleep.

She slept the rest of the drive. The next time the truck came to a stop, May sat up and blinked groggily in the bright sunshine. A fresh, salty breeze wafted in through her open window – in the distance May could hear the ocean rolling up the surf.

“We’re here,” Lenaia announced in a musical tone.

May turned to look out her window. Lenaia had brought her to her parents’ house. Her eyes trailed up the front steps and found Kai staring back. His mouth hung open and his brow was knitted with concern.

Slowly, May slid from the truck. She stood on the sidewalk feeling small and awkward. As she opened her mouth to say something, the door behind Kai swung open and out rushed her parents.

The world seemed to freeze. A rush began somewhere in the pit of May’s stomach and worked its way up to a roar in her ears. Her breaths came shallow and quick, panic gripping her like hands that squeezed far too tight.

May watched, paralyzed by uncertainty, as her mother stepped carefully toward her without breaking eye contact. The woman looked as though she were staring at a ghost and, if she so much as blinked, May might vanish into vapor.

“Baby,” she whispered, stopping an arm’s length from where May still stood rooted in place. “Baby, are you okay?”

The question, asked with so much tenderness, brought back a flood of memories. Young May sick with the flu, teenaged May locked in her room after having been teased by classmates over her boyish figure. Her mother’s concern – before things had fallen apart so dramatically five years earlier – always had a way of coaxing May down from the ledge.

May’s lip trembled. She tried to answer but her voice betrayed her.

No, she thought. I’m not okay. I don’t even remember what okay feels like.

She shook her head, collapsed into her mother’s outstretched arms, and burst into tears.


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Forty Five

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[ CW: Strong language ]


May wasn’t sure what she was expecting when she stepped off the boat and onto Hoku’s northern shore. Perhaps she had anticipated the stress and anxiety of her past to crash into her all at once, like a wave in a storm. She stood in the middle of the dock, forcing the few passengers who actually came to the island – mostly locals who traveled to Topaia for business – to swerve around her, and waited for something to happen.

But aside from the obstruction she caused, no one spared her so much as a second glance. Life went on around her, and whatever catastrophe May was waiting for never came.

When she at last convinced herself to move on, May gave herself permission to enjoy the sunshine and the wet, humid air of the coast. Island heat was unlike anything else she had encountered out in the world; it had been so long since she felt its embrace, she had forgotten how much she missed it.

With nowhere else to be, May wandered down to the shoreline. She kicked off her shoes, peeled off her socks, and rolled the cuff of her jeans so she could walk through the rolling surf. Her toes sank into the hot sand and, when the whispering tide chased its way around her ankles, she sighed peacefully.

You could take the girl from the island, but you couldn’t take the saltwater from her veins.

May walked until she came to familiar stretch of sand. Dropping her pack on the beach, she waded into the water and let the sound of the waves take her back to the night she decided she would follow Em anywhere.

That was the night May realized how deeply in love she had fallen. The thought that she had lost Em was all she needed to help her understand just how much she wanted – how badly she needed – to be with her.

Now she was back again in the exact same spot, and she was completely alone.

She hadn’t followed Em, no matter what her heart wanted.

And she was back in a place she honestly never thought she’d see again.

May turned her gaze from the horizon to the island town at her back. In truth, she was only halfway back to the place she had fled from. Omea, her birthplace and the only home she had ever known for twenty-four long years, lay on the opposite side of the island. She wondered if it had changed much in the last year, and what people would say when she returned.

If she returned.

While she hadn’t been able to stay in Topaia, perhaps simply being on Hoku would be compromise enough. The idea of going back home, especially alone, tied her stomach up in knots. As much as she missed her family, she did not miss the gossip or the insinuation. Even being on the run for a year hadn’t been as dehumanizing as living her life of the periphery of a community that refused to forgive her for imagined sins.

She rolled the idea of staying on the north shore around in her mind. Save for a handful of day trips with her family when she was young, May hadn’t spent much time on this part of the island. It was more populated than Omea, that much she knew; more open to visitors too. But not by much. Pulling her shoes back on, May hauled her pack over a shoulder and made her way into town.

Seaside cafes, trade offices, and market stalls dotted the streets closest to the harbor, reaching away from this central hub of activity like fingers from a palm. May’s eyes drifted over the colors of wares for sale and the tanned and sweat-slicked bodies of the people around her without really seeing any of it. Again, she trailed to a stop.

She should have been looking for a place to stay, even if just for the night. She needed to figure out what she was going to do next.

But her brain couldn’t do it; the very idea of planning anything that looked like a future without Em by her side didn’t feel right.

Suddenly the idea of returning to Omea didn’t seem like the worst thing in the world after all. May felt as numb to it as she did every other prospect she tried to churn up.

Her mind wandered. She had no idea how long she stood there on the corner of a street that led out of the shipyards, staring into nothing, when a loud flatbed truck shrieked to a stop beside her. Even with the cringeworthy sound right next to her ear, followed by the heavy slamming of a door, May didn’t so much as flinch.

A woman darted around the front of the truck, stopping in front of May and staring at her with incredulous, unblinking eyes.

“Holy shit,” the woman said with a gasp. “May, is that really you?”

The sound of her name pulled May back to the moment. She blinked and gave her head a shake.

Standing there, with her long black hair pulled away from her peachy round face in a tight high ponytail, was the first familiar person May had seen in almost a week.

“Lenaia?” she asked, feeling like she must have been dreaming.

She was answered with a high pitched shriek as Lenaia leapt forward and wrapped her arms around May’s neck.

“I didn’t think I’d ever see you again!” Lenaia cried. “What are you doing here? Where’s Em? You’ve got to tell me everything!”

Her questions hit May like a blow to the gut. It must have shown because Lenaia’s enthusiasm drained from her face when she saw May’s heartbroken expression.

But before she could say anything else, a truck stuck behind her laid on the horn.

“Just hang on for like, one minute,” Lenaia shouted at the driver, who gestured impatiently back at her. She looked back to May. “Fuck, okay, where are you going?”

“I…” May trailed off. She had no idea what to say.

Another honk.

“Dammit,” Lenaia pulled open her passenger side door. “Get in. We’ve got to move.”

Without thinking, May did as she was told. Back in the driver’s seat, Lenaia shifted and turned onto the main drag running along the shoreline.

“Did you just get back?” Lenaia asked, shooting a quick glance at May. “Do you have a place to stay?”

“I don’t know,” May answered in a small, hushed voice.

Lenaia chewed her bottom lip and signaled to turn into a beach-side parking lot. There wasn’t much room for her big truck, but Lenaia wasn’t the sort of person to let that kind of thing stop her. She pulled horizontally across multiple parking stalls and threw on her hazard lights before turning in her seat to face May. Her features were drawn tight with concern.

“Are you okay?”

May opened her mouth to answer, but the sound caught in her throat. She swallowed the lump of tears she felt rising and shook her head instead.

“Are you alone?”

May hesitated, then nodded once.

At that, Lenaia twisted back to the steering wheel and threw the truck back into drive.

“There’s room behind your seat for your bag,” she said, maneuvering the truck out of the lot with a renewed sense of purpose.

“I’m taking you home.”


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Forty Four

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[ CW: Strong language ]


The first leg of May’s journey passed in a daze. She barely registered the world as it raced past her window or the voices of her fellow passengers. The empty space at her side haunted her like a ghost.

Then, from the train tracks to the shipyards, May left Mondova the same way she first arrived what felt like a lifetime ago. This time, rather than booking a cabin on a passenger vessel, she negotiated her way into a spare bunk on a freight ship. Something about her misery craved discomfort, and even though it wasn’t the safest option – a woman traveling solo on a ship primarily inhabited by rough and tumbled men – she took the risk out of spite.

Besides, the manual labor she traded for passage was a welcome distraction.

Yet when each day of working at sea was done, there was nothing to keep May from her thoughts. Every night she’d lie awake, listening to the creak of the ship’s hull and running over every moment of what had led her to this loneliness.

The very public blow-up, Em sending May away – it had all been part of the plan.

But just because she had agreed to it – eventually, begrudgingly – didn’t mean May was happy about it.

Her heartbreak and tears weren’t just for show.

May had been right: Em was leaving her, just not in the way she had originally feared. Em had decided to finish the rescue mission with WIND, only without May.

“I need to know you’re safe,” Em pleaded after May vehemently refused the idea. “And nothing about this is safe.”

“I know that,” May snapped, angry that Em was serious about sending her away. “I’ve known that since the beginning – since I first decided to leave Hoku with you. Em, I’m doing this with you.”

Em shook her head sadly.

“May, when we first got here, you asked me to promise I wouldn’t lose control again.” Em looked her in the eyes, her expression pained. “And believe me when I say I’ve been trying to be better, stronger. But I can’t say with any real confidence that I could fight it if you were in danger again.”

“Is that it then?” May could feel tears rising as she stomped about the office, pulling on her discarded clothes and pacing through her anxiety. “I’m just the damsel in distress of the group now?”

“Of course not,” Em sighed. “But because of what I did, the Loyals know how important you are to me now. If you think they won’t use that to their advantage then you haven’t been paying attention.”

May knew Em was right; her armor of anonymity was gone. But as far as she could see, it only meant she was as vulnerable as the rest of the team. She told Em as much, but it didn’t seem to matter to the Starborn.

“Then let’s just forget about it,” May whispered, taking Em’s hands in her own and clutching them to her chest as she sat beside her. Her bravado was slipping and desperation in the face of Em’s firmness was taking hold. “Let WIND fix their own problems. We can run.”

She felt hideous for saying something so selfish. In her mind, she saw Gaten as he was in Rue’s locket and knew he didn’t have a chance if they disappeared. Still…

Em touched her forehead to May’s. “You know that’s not true. This isn’t going to go away just because we do. It needs to stop.”

“Why does it have to be you?” May lamented. She felt like a child, unwilling and unable to process anything rationally.

“Because in a way, I’m responsible.” Em’s lip was trembling now, betraying her. “Audrey is the reason WIND exists in the first place. How am I supposed to run away knowing that something she did – something a piece of me started – is still hurting people? I need to end this once and for all.”

“The Loyals are the ones hurting people, Em.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Fine.” May drew up every ounce of stubbornness inside her. “But I’m still coming with you. I can hold my own.”

Em pursed her lips, a guilty look casting over her features.

“I’m sorry, love. But this time it’s not completely up to me.”

May started. “What do you mean?”

“WIND…” Em hesitated, shifting uneasily. “They think you’re a liability.”

The truth hit May like a wave of icy water. She jumped to her feet.

Jeremy.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” she shouted. Cursing had never been how May chose to express herself, but now it felt like the only way she could.

“Babe, they came up with a plan. Just hear it out before you get mad.”

“It’s a little late for that, Emanthy.” May stormed around the room, unable to hold still for all her bristling, furious energy. “I can’t believe this. You’re choosing them over me?”

Em rose and closed the distance between them in a few quick strides. She took May by the shoulders and tried to pull her close, but May struggled away.

“I’m choosing us,” Em said, her voice quavering with hurt. “I’m doing this so we can have a future that doesn’t involve constantly running and hiding from the mistakes of my past life. Don’t you want that?”

A strangled sob escaped May’s throat as she stood back at an arm’s length from Em. She broke down and cried shamelessly. A peaceful future with the woman she loved; that was exactly what she wanted. As she entertained the fantasy, her demeanor softened and Em reached for her again.

“I want to be with you,” May wept.

“You will be,” Em whispered, wrapping her arms around May. “When this is all over, we’ll be together.”

May continued to cry, her arms hanging limply at her sides. She couldn’t bring herself to return Em’s embrace – she was still too upset.

“And what am I supposed to do until then?” she demanded. The edge in her voice was mangled by her tears. “What if something happens to you? How will I ever know?”

“May,” Em said firmly, holding her out so she could look her in the eyes. “Nothing is going to happen to me. I will come back for you.”

“But-“

“I am coming back for you, May.”

Taking a deep breath, May stared back at Em. She set her jaw and, without looking away, she pulled her birth mother’s wedding ring off her hand and held it out.

Em’s eyes grew globe-like. “What are you doing?”

“I want you to take it.”

“What? No.”

“Yes,” May insisted, thrusting the heirloom forward. “If you’re going to make me leave, then you’re going to take this ring.”

“But it’s the only thing you have left from your birth parents,” Em replied, gaping.

May’s eyes narrowed. “Then you better make sure you find me again when this is over so you can give it back to me.”

Laying in her bunk, May rubbed the empty groove on her middle finger absently. Em had agreed to take the ring, and in turn, May had agreed to WIND’s plan.

Em gave her the combination for a train station public locker in the next city over. With the help of Grant and Lety, they orchestrated the argument and pick-up. When it was all over, Em went one way and May went another, alone.

Silent tears traced down May’s cheeks as she remembered the last words she and Em said to each other. Their argument had been fake, but the cruel things they’d said had been too real, fueled by the heated moment. She wanted to believe Em would return for her – that their relationship and everything they shared wasn’t truly over. But sometimes, when the night was dark and her loneliness was heaviest, May simply wasn’t sure.

Every night she did this to herself, and every night she fell into a fitful sleep on a damp pillow.

*

When she at last disembarked on Topaia, the island directly north of Hoku in the Lewa archipelago, May played with the idea of staying. Where Hoku was like a small time capsule, remote and trapped in its ways, Topaia embraced progress and people from all walks of life. She could make a home here; she didn’t have to go back to the desolation and judgment – not to mention the repercussions of what she and Em had left in their wake – waiting for her back in her hometown of Omea.

But just as quickly as the idea came to her, a small voice in the back of her mind whispered, but how will Em know where to look for me?

That fear was enough to make her buy one last boat ticket.

From the deck, May gazed across the horizon.

She took a deep breath and readied herself.

Em wasn’t the only one with a hostile past to face.


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