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.”
“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.”
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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