The Wind and the Horizon: Epilogue

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It took longer for complete darkness to fall at this latitude, but the Emandi didn’t mind. A few extra hours meant very little to a creature who had already seen many millenia pass.

The moon was dark and the stars glittered overhead like ocean spray frozen in time. In the distance a hazy green glow reached faintly across the sky. It was a perfect night to watch the aurora, and the show was just getting started.

The Emandi had made their way high into the upper alpine, where the air was thin and the lights would feel close enough to touch. They coiled their sleek feline-esque body into an orb atop a weather-worn boulder and blinked slowly skyward with their pale, icy eyes. The aurora grew, colors of purple and red joining the streaking green and dancing across the endless expanse of sky to a muted song. The intensity of the colors reflected on the Emandi’s short silver fur, making the creature smile.

Being one of the oldest creatures in existence – an original child of the love between the land and the sun – the Emandi had borne witness to all of the earth’s wonders. They appreciated every single one of them, but had a special place in their heart for the aurora. For hours the Emandi sat in the frigid mountain air, the plush gossamer mane that floated atop their shoulders and down their chest provided a comfortable shield against the elements. It was a peaceful place to be for anyone capable of surviving in such unforgiving terrain.

A flash cut across the sky, bright enough to briefly outshine the aurora and catch the Emandi’s attention. Their eyes followed the light as it careened downward into the dark forest at the base of the mountain, close to where the Emandi made their home.

“How curious,” they purred and set off to investigate.

The Emandi took their time coming down the mountain. They dawdled through the forest, pausing to lap from a glacial stream and watch nocturnal creatures scurry hither and fro as the underbrush grew denser in the lower elevation. A brilliant white light filtered through the trees, growing brighter as the Emandi closed in.

At last, the creature stepped into a small clearing, lit as though it were midday. Standing at its center was a tall, glowing figure draped in golden robes with a sour look puckering their otherwise beautiful face.

A Star.

“Why, Sita,” the Emandi hummed pleasantly, easing back onto a pair of powerful hind legs. They rolled their shoulders back and drew themself into a human-like posture. “What a surprise.”

“I do wish you wouldn’t call me that,” the Star replied with a scowl. Owing to their musical language, Stars had names that were impossible for any earthly creature to pronounce – save for perhaps the birds. That the Emandi had decided to name them as they saw fit remained a sore point for many of them.

“Give me a name I can pronounce and I will cease at once. Now, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”

The Star regarded the Emandi critically before answering.

“I’m looking for the one you earth creatures call Welkin.”

“Well, that’s peculiar. Is it not unusual for your kind to lose track of one of your own?”

“Not when they’re in exile,” Sita admitted darkly.

The only sign that this news surprised the Emandi was a sharp flick of their thick tail. “Exile, you say?”

The Star didn’t respond.

Making a thoughtful noise, the Emandi settled back on their haunches. “If Welkin is in exile, I can’t imagine it matters where they are, so long as they’re not up there.” They gestured skyward with an articulated finger from one of their forepaws.

“In this case it does,” Sita replied. “Welkin’s exile comes with certain… terms. We are concerned they may be breaking them.”

“Fascinating.” The Emandi’s tail flicked again. “This punishment sounds poorly thought out to me. Rushed it, did we?”

Sita glowered. “Have you seen them or not?”

“I haven’t seen Welkin in, oh, three years? Perhaps four. Is that helpful?”

“You’ve had no contact more recent than that?” the Star asked, to which the Emandi shook their sizeable head. “Would you even tell me if you had?”

“I have no vested interested in being dishonest with you, Sita.”

With their lovely lips pressed into a tight line, Sita deliberated privately before giving a curt nod. “Very well. Should your paths cross, we would appreciate it if you didn’t mention this conversation.”

Flick, flick went the Emandi’s tail.

“I’ll take your request into consideration.”

By the sneer on their face, it was clear that Sita wasn’t happy with that response, but there wasn’t much to be done about it. The Star’s light intensified to a blinding brightness, and the Emandi closed their eyes until it dissipated with a fading whistle.

The forest was filled with darkness once more. Glancing up between the shadowy trees, the Emandi could see a patch of sky; in it the aurora continued to dance.

“Oh, Welkin. Dear friend,” the Emandi murmured to themself.

“What kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into this time?”

— End of Book 2 —

The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Fifty Nine

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In May’s dream, the world was a black, inky void.

At first she thought she was the only person in existence, wandering silently through nothingness; lost and alone.

And then she tripped.

She fell face-forward, sprawling without injury onto the dark. When she hoisted herself up onto her elbows, she glanced back at what she tripped over and let out a choked wail.

Floating in the emptiness, eyes closed and covered in blood, was Em. Her face was mottled with the same bruises and gashes that May had suffered at the hands of Melanie, and a red, seeping stain blossomed across her shirt from the center of her chest.

May scrambled to Em’s side in a panic.

“They found you,” she sobbed, her trembling hands searching Em’s neck for a pulse. “No, no, no, they got to you too.”

Fat hot tears fell from May’s eyes, splashing down onto Em’s icy skin and diluting the smears of fresh blood like watercolor paint.

“Wake up, Em,” she sobbed, holding her face between her palms. “Please, open your eyes.”

She shook Em’s shoulders with a firm grasp, her frantic pleas echoing through the dark and barren world that surrounded them. Something in May’s mind convinced her that she was too late, and she collapsed over Em’s body in a hysterical heap.

A soft touch on the top of her head startled her. May sat up with a gasp and found Em, now inexplicably void of injury, smiling down at her.

“I knew you could do it,” the Star whispered, looking at her with proud and loving diamond eyes.

May shouted with joy, flinging her arms around Em and holding her tight. She looked at her again, breathless with relief. Em pulled May up until they were face to face and pressed a chaste kiss to her lips. It was a gesture that filled May with happiness and longing, but for some reason her body seemed incapable of reciprocating.

Em tried again with another gentle kiss and, again, May’s body was sluggish to respond. It was confusing and frustrating in the way dreams are when things don’t work the way they’re supposed to. Em pressed harder. Slowly, with her mind growing fuzzy around the edges, May felt her body begin to respond.

Em’s kiss tasted like wine.

“Oh, May,” dream Em whispered in a voice that jostled May’s mind.

It wasn’t Em’s voice.

“May…”

It was Mila’s.

May’s eyes shot open to find herself surrounded by a different kind of darkness. A warm body writhed against her own beneath the covers, another kiss smothering her lips. Her sleep-addled brain tripped over itself at the sensation of a hand sliding up her shirt.

“I’ve missed you so much,” Mila’s voice murmured, her lips moving against May’s cheek.

“Mila,” May gasped. “Stop it. What are you doing?” She squirmed, trying to hoist Mila off and wriggle free, but her legs were tangled in the quilt and a sharp stinging from the scar on her chest nearly took her breath away.

“Oh, come on,” Mila crooned, shifting so that she straddled May’s hips and intertwining their fingers like tight laces. “You can’t tell me you don’t still think about us.”

“Get off of me!”

Mila attempted to kiss her again, getting only May’s cheek as she turned her face away.

“We’re both alone! This is our chance.”

May was now completely awake, panic pulsing through her. Her mind screamed like a siren, her body reacting to being pinned yet again. But this time she was stronger – not to mention sober – and she had the upper hand. Bucking her hips, May ignored the searing pain in her chest and twisted. With Mila’s center of gravity thrown, all it took was a shove to send her sprawling onto the other side of the small pull-out mattress. Hissing through the pain, May scrambled to her feet and gently massaged her scar.

“Wait,” Mila cried, reaching out for her. “Please, wait.”

“Mila, that’s enough,” May shouted. “You need to stop.”

As May fumbled to get away from the bed – the living room was so cramped with the couch mattress pulled out – Mila began to cry.

“I’m so sorry,” she howled. “I just thought-”

“No,” May snapped, cutting her excuse off at the bud. “We’re over, Mila. We had a chance and you threw it away a long time ago. End of story.”

“I was scared.”

May scoffed. “No, you were selfish. Clearly you still are because you’re married. And even if you weren’t, I’m in love with someone else – someone who actually loves me back.”

She stood at the foot of the pull-out and watched Mila sob. Even in tears Mila was beautiful, her soft cheeks flushed and dark, seductive eyes glistening. But now when May looked at her all she saw was a spoiled and pitiful creature.

“I don’t love him,” Mila moaned, punctuating her confession with a sad hiccup. As if she thought her words would make any sort of difference to May, she reached out a trembling hand. “I was alone and scared and I didn’t know what else to do.”

A part of May wanted to be surprised by Mila’s admission and even her audacity to use it to try and lure her back in. But May was no longer blinded by the charms of first love. With a shake of her head she turned and marched toward the door.

“Maybe, please.”

“I’m sorry you’re unhappy, Mila. But that’s not my problem. Not anymore.” May stooped and hauled her pack onto her shoulder with a wince. “It’s time for you to learn how to clean up your own damn messes.” She yanked the door open, a cool blast of night air washing over her like a refreshing tide.

Sparing one last glance back, May narrowed her eyes. “And stop calling me Maybe – you don’t get to do that anymore.”

*

It was so early – too early to be at the shipyards already – but May had nowhere else to go. Bundled tightly beneath Em’s hoody, May slumped down at the edge of a dock and let her legs dangle over. She was exhausted and angry, so much so that she couldn’t bring herself to care about being out in the open anymore. The dull throbbing in her chest had ebbed, and thankfully a quick glance down the front of her shirt confirmed that she hadn’t reopened her wound. Huffing, May arranged her pack behind her, leaning back on it to watch the sunrise and listen to the ocean roll around her.

As the night sky faded into dreamy shades of violet and gold, the shrieking call of gulls interrupted the serenity of the morning. May tipped her head back and watched them circle and dive, some hopping cautiously up the dock behind her or watching her with unblinking curiosity from the lamp posts above.

Then, amid the flurry of white and grey feathers, a dark mass caught May’s attention. She sat up and twisted to get a better look at the creature as it flapped its massive black wings, landing only a dozen paces down the dock. It was a bird, but not a gull. Every inch of its huge body – it easily dwarfed the gulls – was sleek black. Thoughtful eyes peered back at May. From its large, curved beak it let out a raspy caw that sounded eerily out of place.

And it was. May knew this was no island bird. She had seen the species before, high in the mountainous terrain of Tenna. Dom had told her all about them when she first spotted a pair circling in the sky; she had been struck by their enormous size and freakishly knowing gaze.

“A raven,” she whispered, watching the displaced bird with the same sense of awe. “What are you doing all the way out here?”

The raven cawed again and released what looked to be a crumpled piece of paper from its taloned foot. With a few rapid pecks, it opened the paper and tilted its head left and then right, giving each eye a chance to inspect whatever was on it. Then the raven looked back at May.

Another caw. This time the raven snatched the paper up in its beak and fluttered over to where May sat with flabbergasted stillness. Up close, the bird was even bigger than she had imagined and she involuntarily shrunk away when it got close.

Unperturbed, the raven tossed the paper down and scooted it toward May with its beak. It watched her expectantly and, when she didn’t move, it cawed again, making her jump.

“Am I supposed to take that?”

Caw.

Carefully she reached out, but the raven was already distracted with pruning itself. The paper was grubby and of a thicker stock that she anticipated. Turning it to face the lamplight, May gasped, nearly dropping it when she saw her own face smiling back at her.

It was a photo Em had taken of her back when they were on the run. In it, May sat on a blanket, smiling over her shoulder at Em as they perched on a hilltop watching the sunrise. It had been one of the first photos they sent to Dom to let him and the rest of the search and rescue team know they were safe.

“How did you get this?” May marvelled, turning the photo over in her hands. That’s when she spotted the writing. It was a note, short and unquestionably written in Dom’s child-like scrawl.

M —

Something huge has happened.

Can’t say much in case Fargus is intercepted.

Come ASAP.

— D

May raised an eyebrow at the bird. “Are you Fargus?”

Her question elicited a caw and a couple quick dips of the raven’s head that uncannily mimicked a nod.

“Did Dom send you?”

Another caw and a nod. May remembered Dom telling her that ravens were freakishly smart and, as a forest spirit, it made sense that he’d be able to convince one to send a message on his behalf. She reread the note and considered it carefully. There was always a chance that it was a trap, but what if it wasn’t? After all, if there was a way to ensure a message was nearly impossible to trace, May figured sending it by raven was probably a good way to do it.

“How do I know I can trust you?” she asked, feeling a little foolish as she did so. Fargus replied with a full body shake, dark feathers fluffing momentarily before gently settling back into place.

“Are Dom and the others safe at least?”

Caw. Nod.

Would it be crazy of her to trust a bird?

Making a detour to Tenna threw off her plan – she had intended to head straight back to the Rookery in hopes that the Murder’s criminal ties could help her track down her birth parents. Her eyes traced the words ‘something huge has happened’ again and her heart picked up its pace. What could that mean?

Biting her lip, May gazed out across the ocean. Her eyes fixated on the horizon. Going to Tenna meant delaying the only thing she wanted – putting an end to the Loyals once and for all so that she and Em could finally be together again. But deep down May knew she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she ignored Dom’s request and something happened to him or the others.

“Okay, Fargus,” she said, turning back to the patiently waiting raven. “Tell Dominic I’m on my way.”

With a few excited caws, Fargus took to the air and flew eastward in the direction of the mainland. May pulled herself to her feet and watched the bird’s dark silhouette disappear. Behind her a ship’s horn sounded.

Once more, May looked across the sea.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, her fingers tracing the groove of her absent ring. She fantasized that wherever Em was, she was looking down at it and thinking of May in that same moment. “It might take a little longer to finish this than I originally planned.”

The sun broke the horizon, its first rays reaching across space and time to warm May’s face with a gentle caress.

“First, Dom, then the wishing star.”

She smiled, bright and wide.

“And then, us.”


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Fifty Eight

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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?”

“They do.”

“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.”

“G’night.”

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.

Not anymore.

She ran her hand over the short fuzz over her scalp.

“Badass,” she whispered.

“I’m a badass.”


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Fifty Seven

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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.”

Too late.

May sighed, shrinking under the curious gaze of a passing couple who gestured at May’s injured face and whispered to one another.

“Okay, sure.”

*

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.

“Yup.”

“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.

“You’re married?”

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.

“Fine.”


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Fifty Six

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The sun was rising as the Rocket rumbled into a parking lot at the north shore shipyards. May carefully lifted her pack onto her shoulders, locked the van, and tucked the key up in the wheel well.

“Thank you,” she whispered to the old junker of a vehicle with a light pat on the hood. How many times had this decrepit van gotten her exactly where she needed to be? “Kai will be here for you tomorrow.”

In the ticketing office a tired man eyed May warily as he took her money for the fare.

“What happened to your face, kid?”

May fidgeted. As if on cue, a car honked outside, giving her a story.

“Car accident.”

The man whistled between his teeth. “Musta been a bad one.”

“Could have been worse, I guess,” May said without looking him in the eye.

With her boarding pass tucked safely away, May considered her options. She had 24 hours to kill until her sailing; too much, in her opinion. As easy as it would have been to wait with the Rocket, she didn’t want to risk it in case her family decided to ignore her note and came looking for her. Besides, the idea of being alone didn’t sit well with her. She had kept her mind busy for the past week and a half by obsessing over her plans but now that she was here, there was nothing to stop the fear from creeping in.

Her brain fixated on how truly alone she was, and the thought made her feel vulnerable. Casting anxious, furtive glances over her shoulders, May sought out a place to wile away the hours – a place with people, but also one where no one could come up on her unexpectedly. Jittery and suspicious of every face that passed her, May wondered how long it would take to feel safe again.

Maybe this was a bad idea, she thought. Melanie might still be following me. She could be anywhere.

As strangers filtered around her on the sidewalk, May shrank into herself. Everyone felt too close. Her breath quickened; she needed to find a safe place.

She walked until she spotted a restaurant up ahead. But the relief she felt was short lived: there was someone behind her. May didn’t dare risk looking back, but she could feel a body following too closely. Her heartbeat thudded so hard she felt it in her ears. Panic rose and she picked up her pace – faster and faster until she broke into a full sprint to the restaurant’s door.

From the threshold she chanced a glance back only to find a teenaged boy wearing an oversized pair of headphones, completely engrossed in whatever was happening on his phone; he hadn’t even noticed her take off.

“Get a grip, May,” she admonished herself under her breath.

“Table for one?”

May let out a yelp as she spun to face a startled waitress.

“Is everything okay?” the waitress asked, glancing over May’s shoulder as if she might find something lurking there.

“Yes, sorry. I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t notice you standing there. A table for one would be great. Somewhere in the back if possible.”

The waitress lead May to the back of the restaurant and gestured to a small table.

Too exposed, May fretted. Her fingers twitched, longing for rings to fidget with the way she always had when she found herself overcome with nervous energy.

“What about there?” May pointed to an empty horseshoe booth in the corner that was clearly meant for at least four people. The waitress scowled but her eyes lingered over the bruises on May’s face and she gave a resigned shrug.

“Sure, whatever.”

With a feeble mumble of thanks, May scooted to the furthest end of the booth and drew up her hood. From here she had a good view of the entire restaurant but knew she was tucked away enough to be relatively out of sight. She let out a slow, calming breath and pulled the laminated menu foreward.

Her eyes trailed over the food and drink offerings with disinterest. Though nothing appealed to her, May knew she had to order something if she didn’t want to piss off her already grumpy waitress. She flipped the menu to find a full page of wine, beer, and cocktail options and something inside her ached. The idea of drinking away her anxiety felt like the perfect antidote, and May was startled by how badly she wanted it. Thankfully it was far too early; the restaurant wouldn’t be serving alcohol for hours. When the waitress returned, May ordered a light breakfast and tea. She privately resolved to ignore the booze menu for the rest of the day.

The day passed at an excruciating pace. To fill the time, May pulled out the curling notepad she had been using to keep her thoughts and plans for her solo mission. Multiple pages were dedicated to the litany of questions that continued to come to her as she tried to imagine how she was going to find a missing wishing star that an entire army’s worth of Loyals hadn’t been able to locate for over two decades.

What do I do if the Murder can’t help me?

Where did the Loyals take Dawn and Oliver?

What does a wishing star even look like???

She kept lists of places she could look and other people she might be able to turn to for help.

Former criminals from the cirque (pretty sure Lenore did time for murder)

Sean and wife (former cops) – would they be allowed to help?

Lunch time rolled around and the waitress hovered around the booth, watching May with a mix of curiosity and bitterness. May ordered a sandwich and more tea, settling up her tab with a better than fair tip that seemed to brighten the waitress’ mood and bought May a couple more hours in her vinyl formica fortress.

Eventually a new waiter – or perhaps the manager – stepped up to the table.

“I’m sorry, miss. We’ve got a bigger party that needs a table and you haven’t ordered anything in a while. Would you mind if I moved you to the bar?”

May couldn’t blame him for wanting to move her, and she appreciated that he wasn’t simply kicking her out. But as she eyed the bar, the idea of sitting with her back to the room and in such tantalizing proximity to four icy draught taps made her shake her head. With a word of thanks, she gathered her things and slipped out of the booth. It felt as if every pair of eyes in the restaurant followed her as she wove toward the door, through the waiting party, and out into the blinding afternoon sunlight.

“Now what?” May murmured to herself. All around her obliviously happy or distracted people came and went without sparing her so much as a sideways glance. She checked the time – perhaps she’d be able to find a hotel that would let her check into a room early. Her mind conjured up an image of a neat and seemingly empty room. Would it be secure enough? She played with the idea of dragging the bedding into the bathroom and sleeping in the tub just for the sake of having an extra locking door between herself and the rest of the world.

She meandered through the streets so fixated on finding a place to stay that she only vaguely noticed the faces she saw along the way. An old couple toddling arm in arm and bickering about what to make for dinner, a gaggle of school-aged kids jostling one another as they made their way to the beach, a beauty with dark features whose eyes flicked to May’s as they passed each other.

A light of familiarity sparked in the back of May’s mind; a twinge of nostalgia tainted by heartbreak.

“May?” asked a voice from her past. “Is that you?”

Her body seized in place. There was no way the owner of that velvety voice could really be the person May’s mind jumped to… could it?

Slowly, May turned. The woman had stopped too. She stood stock still, staring back at May with disbelief.

It was her after all: a touch older but with the same entrancing black eyes May had once spent countless hours gazing into and dreaming of.

Her first love.

May could barely find her voice.

“Mila?

What are you doing here?”


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Fifty Five

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May waited, biding her time as she worked out a plan.

She wasn’t sure what her mother anticipated in telling May the truth about her birth parents’ and the wishing star. Perhaps she had expected her to rush off, as evidenced by the way Tiio hovered close by during the days and checked in throughout the night. Then again, no one could blame her for being anxious after what had happened at the treehouse. As it was, not even Kai was willing to stay there alone anymore. No matter how hard he scrubbed, he couldn’t get the blood stain off the floor.

“I think I’ll have to change out some of the floorboards,” he told them all over dinner one night. He was playing it cool, but May saw right through him; Kai was shaken, and not one of them blamed him.

He hadn’t gone back to the treehouse since.

And so, surrounded by her family in her now cramped childhood home, May waited.

She waited to gain strength, letting her numerous injuries heal before she made her move. As the days passed her bruises faded from deep blooms of burgundy and purple to ugly shades of yellow and brown. The swelling in her face subsided and the deep, full-body ache she carried ceased to be as all-consuming as it once was – that, or she had simply grown accustomed to the pain.

She mapped out her plan, working through her thoughts in a detective-style map of scrap pieces of paper and spending long hours gazing out into nothing as she played scenario after scenario out in her head. If her birth parents’ were criminals, then she had to get into their world if she had any hope of tracing their path through their final year of freedom.

The deep-rooted secrets of the criminal underworld were very much a mystery to May, but lucky for her she happened to know an entire garage full of people who just might be able to help her out.

When May returned to the hospital for her one-week follow-up, the doctor carefully removed the stitches from her scalp but frowned at the wound on her chest.

“This can be a tricky spot,” he told her. “Just getting in and out of bed or changing your clothes can pull at the sutures. Let’s give this one a little more time, just to be safe. Come back in three days and we’ll see where we’re at.”

Three days. May had a timeline now: three days to get her affairs in order and then she’d be gone.

She spent those three days making covert arrangements for her trip. When her mother was distracted with lunch, May crept away with the excuse that she had a headache and needed a bit of quiet. Once she was alone, she called the shipyards on the north shore and discovered the next passenger ship sailing for the mainland would be two days after her appointment. It wasn’t ideal, but given her condition she was in no shape to trade work for faire this time. She would just have to manage. Choosing what to bring posed its own challenge. Even after the stitches were removed she’d still have to be careful about how much weight she lifted for at least a month. That meant she had to pack light and carefully; only the essentials would do.

The day of her next appointment came and this time the doctor deemed her chest to be healed enough to remove the sutures. She was given stern rules about aftercare and warnings about re-injury and sent on her way.

“Do you think you could drive me out to the treehouse?” she asked of her brother that evening after dinner. “I’d like to grab the rest of my things.” In her mind she could see her backpack slumped next to the bed where she had left it before the attack. She needed it for her journey.

Kai shifted in his seat, his eyes betraying his discomfort at the idea of facing that house. He had only been back once, the day after May was hospitalized so he could clean up and grab some clothes for the two of them; he’d been sleeping in his childhood bedroom ever since.

“Please?” May pressed gently when Kai took too long to answer.

He relented with a sigh. “I guess I have been wearing the same two outfits all week. Sure, let’s go.”

They drove along the narrow packed sand road to the treehouse in tense silence. May could sense the quick, darting looks her brother shot her way as he surreptitiously kept an eye on how she was handling returning to the place where she had been so violently attacked. She didn’t blame him for worrying; had she not been fixated on a mission, May would likely have been too anxious to be there at all.

For the first time since she had built it, May found the treehouse to be cold and unfamiliar. Fear crept up her shoulders as she and Kai stepped into the dark main room.

“I did the best I could,” Kai said, his voice just above a whisper as he gestured to the place where he had found May beaten and bleeding. He had righted all the furniture and cleaned up the debris. The only sign anything had happened was the dark brown stains of dried blood that haunted the floor like unaffixed shadows. “I know I shouldn’t have left the door unlocked but I saw that you forgot your key and I didn’t-”

“It’s okay. You don’t have to justify anything to me, Kai. I’m the one who stormed out when you were just trying to help me.”

May took small, tentative steps toward the stains and regarded them like wild animals; unpredictable and untamed. Seeing it now, May felt like an outsider looking in; as if the blood that left the marks belonged to and the violence that led to them had happened to someone else. She felt like a ghost.

“Are you okay, Maybe?” Kai’s words wrenched her back to the present. She shook her head, taking a sharp inhale to clear her mind.

“Sorry, I zoned out,” she replied, licking her lips. “I still can’t believe it happened.”

“Neither can I. I’m freaked out and it didn’t even happen to me. I can’t imagine what you must be feeling.”

With a hollow laugh, May looked back at the bloodstains. “It wasn’t supposed to happen to me, either. Em sent me away because she thought I would be safer if I wasn’t with her. And somewhere inside I believed her but I didn’t care because I would rather be in danger if it meant I got to stay with her.” She dragged her eyes from the floor to her brother – she had to look somewhere, anywhere else. “And in the end it didn’t even matter. Now I keep wondering whether or not she’s safe. If that’s what they were willing to do to me, what will they do if they ever get their hands on her? What if they already have?”

Kai swept forward and pulled her into a tender hug. May gripped her brother’s shirt and held on as she felt her legs begin to tremble.

“Kai, what if she’s dead?”

“She’s not dead. Don’t do that to yourself.”

Again, they fell into silence. The room loomed around them, the only sounds were the waves and May’s breaths timed to their rhythm.

“You’re going after her, aren’t you?” Kai asked, his voice vibrating in the ear May had leaned against his collar.

“I can’t,” May whispered with a soft shake of her head. She let him make up reasons in his own mind and kept the fact that she had her own job to do to herself.

That night, long after her family had fallen asleep, May eased on her pack and crept from her room.

She wrote a note – You can pick up the Rocket at the shipyards in two days. Please let me do this. – and eased Kai’s keys from a tray by the front door.

The Rocket’s ancient engine roared like thunder in the dead silence of midnight. But if anyone heard it, they didn’t try to stop her. She put the van in gear, pointed it north, and drove off into the darkness.


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Thirty Two

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[ CW: strong language, sexual content ]

Marina’s big house was fairly quiet for the rest of the day, especially considering how many people were in it. The party spent most of the afternoon napping and getting cleaned up.

Some time after three o’clock, Em jolted awake and glanced groggily around the room until she remembered where she was. It came back to her slowly: the memory of crawling along the couch and flopping down onto her stomach between May’s splayed legs. May had been lounging there, reading the computer reference book Marina had loaned her; Em fell asleep with her arms wrapped around May’s middle and her face resting on her stomach as it rose and fell with each gentle breath May took.

“How long was I asleep?” Em asked. She peered up at May, who lifted the book she was still reading to peek back at her.

“Not sure,” May admitted. “Maybe an hour?”

Connor strode into the room carrying a basket full of fresh laundry.

“Do you guys mind if I fold in here?” he asked. “Rue’s sleeping upstairs.”

“Knock yourself out,” Em replied with a yawn, snuggling back down onto May who set the book aside and began combing her fingers lightly through Em’s hair.

Connor was almost finished his chore when a sleepy-eyed Rue wandered downstairs.

“Feeling better, love?” he asked when she walked up for a quick kiss and to survey his progress.

“Much better.” She smiled warmly.

Marina breezed into the room and grinned when she saw them. “Everyone’s surfacing! Who’s up for a drink or two?”

Without waiting for a response she unlocked a magnificent liquor cabinet and pulled out glasses. She then went to retrieve wine from the kitchen as everyone made their drink selection. Before striding back into the room she called up the stairs to the stragglers. “We’re getting drunk without you!”

Soon Jeremy and Priva joined them. They were disheveled, but it didn’t appear to have been from sleep. Em and May exchanged knowing looks when the pair passed them on their way to make their drinks, but they kept their teasing remarks to themselves.

“Oh, man.” Marina sighed happily, settling back with a very full glass of wine. “I can’t remember the last time I got drunk. I think I’m overdue.”

“We’re not getting drunk,” Connor laughed. “But don’t let us stop you.”

“For those prepared to party,” Em raised her glass of whiskey to Marina. “We salute you.”

They all clinked their glasses, a chaotic moment of reaching arms trying to make sure no one was missed, and toasted to being together, regardless of the circumstances.

For everyone but May and Em, the conversation flowed naturally, especially once the alcohol started to lighten the mood in the room. No one wanted to talk about the present and so those who shared a history dipped into the wells of nostalgia. They rehashed memories, retelling increasingly funnier stories until they gasped for breath between their laughter.

May and Em sat on the far end of the couch, edging closer with every sip from their glasses. At first they tried to stay cognisant that Jeremy was right there, regardless of the fact that he hadn’t looked at them once since entering the room. But as the whiskey worked its magic, they seemed to forget that anyone else was in the room. Em coiled an arm around May’s slender waist and nuzzled into the curve of her neck. She planted kiss after kiss – playful in the beginning, then slower and seductive as they worked through their second and third drinks – along May’s jawline and shoulder. Between kisses she’d whisper things in May’s ear that left her crimson-cheeked and giggling.

“One day I’m gonna buy us a big house like this one,” Em told May in a matter-of-fact, whisper-yell. “And you can just spend all day lounging around in fancy lingerie like the fucking queen you are.”

“Shhh, everyone can hear you.” May grinned and kissed Em to silence her.

Em replied by mumbling something against May’s lips that sounded a bit like, “I worship you.”

The only sign that Jeremy heard any of this was the subtle bouncing of his knee.

It wasn’t long after that May excused herself, slipping upstairs to use the washroom.

***

Jeremy didn’t realize Em had crept away too until he rose to fix another drink and found her missing. Squaring his jaw, he tried to focus on the promises he had made; one to Rue to try harder to be pleasant to the girls, made in the throes of gratitude that came with having survived his beating in the alley, the other to Priva. That afternoon she had made him promise to stop obsessing over the past – to see her, the one standing right in front of him. He had promised to try and it must have been enough for her; they made love for the first time in ages.

He thought of the sex, imagining the feeling of Priva’s silky skin under his and the look on her face as he moved between her thighs. Her moans of pleasure, her nails digging into his shoulders, the genuine happiness she radiated as they laid together afterward.

He reached out and took her hand. He could try.

“I know what we’re missing,” Marina announced, sitting up quickly. “Music!”

Priva snapped her fingers. “Didn’t you say Myles plays guitar now?”

“Yes!” Marina pointed at her, clearly into the direction Priva’s train of thought was headed. “It’s in his room!”

Priva looked to Jeremy expectedly. “Go get it, boo! Play for us!”

Jeremy blinked up at Marina. “Where’s his room?”

“Third floor. First door on your left.”

Without arguing – he was trying to be better, after all – he got to his feet and made for the stairs. He hadn’t realized just how much he’d had to drink until standing; his head swam with the early stages of his buzz.

As he stepped onto the second floor, Jeremy paused. To his right the staircase continued upwards. But to his left he saw the bathroom, open and dark. Across the hall was Em and May’s room, the door open just a crack. Everything was quiet.

That’s weird, he thought with a frown. He had been sure they had sneaked up here to fuck. A slight flurry of concern rose in his stomach.

Against his better judgement, he tiptoed toward the room. Perhaps they had simply passed out like a couple of lightweights. But what if they weren’t in there? He tried to push down the paranoid voice in his head, honed from years of fighting and fleeing, that screamed something might be wrong.

He held his breath as he peered through the miniscule opening in the door. From there he could see the bed, made and empty.

A sudden rush of movement took him by surprise as a pair of bodies tumbled into his line of vision from somewhere hidden by the door. Jeremy had to bite his bottom lip to keep from gasping out loud.

A tangle of peaches and cream; May had pushed Em up against the wall, kissing her fiercely. Their shirts had already been discarded, their hands were everywhere.

To Jeremy, the world seemed to fall away. He stood, paralyzed; knowing he needed to walk away but helpless to do so.

May dragged her teeth lightly against the tender flesh of Em’s throat. Head back, Em welcomed May’s assault with a breathy moan.

Kisses were peppered across Em’s collarbone as May groped under her lover’s bra with one hand and worked the button of her jeans with the other.

Get out of here, Jeremy’s brain shouted at him.

But he couldn’t. He was transfixed by the ecstacy on Em’s face as May’s hand plunged down the front of her pants and pressed into her warmth.

He knew that look, he remembered it perfectly. Her quiet noises of passion were exactly the same.

All at once, memories of when he was the one in May’s place came back to him like a crashing wave.

It didn’t matter what she looked like or what she called herself: Jeremy knew Audrey when he saw her.

At last he was able to tear himself away from the door. He staggered to the staircase and heaved a few deep and rocky breaths.

Go upstairs, he coached himself. Get the guitar. Go downstairs. Figure your shit out.

From down the hall, Em cried out softly.

Figure your shit out.

***

By the time the girls slunk back downstairs, the sitting room was filled with the sound of guitar strings and drunken singing.

“Welcome back, ladies,” Priva announced loudly, drawing everyone’s attention to the blushing pair as they slid back into their spot on the couch.

“Look,” May laughed, trying to come up with an excuse and failing.

“Listen,” Em said, with just as much success.

From his chair, Jeremy fiddled with the guitar pegs, adjusting the tuning. He didn’t look up as he launched into another song.

The notes were familiar. May recognized it as the song she and Em had performed at the flat in Luxton; the first song she learned to play herself.

“Hey!” She turned to Em, smiling. “It’s the song you’re always singing!”

But Em didn’t answer. She wasn’t smiling either.

Instead her gaze was fixed on Jeremy’s hands as they danced over the strings.

“Wait,” Em muttered, squinting. “How do you…”

Her eyes grew wide. “Oh, fuck.”

“What’s wrong?” Connor asked, glancing between Em and Jeremy.

“Imagine how surprised I was when you two started playing this song,” Jeremy said, his eyes still trained on his instrument as he finished the melody. “This, the song I wrote for Audrey.”

The final note reverberated itself into silence. No one spoke.

“She’s the only person I ever played it for.” Now he looked up. His eyes were cold.

“Isn’t that interesting?”


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Nineteen

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“We need to lay low and travel carefully,” Connor had instructed. “If the Loyals learn we’ve found you before we’re ready to stage the handover then we’re screwed.”

According to WIND, the Loyals had informants everywhere. To avoid rousing suspicion from potentially prying eyes, the group would have to leave as faint a trail as possible. No travel that required identification; cash only, aliases as much as necessary. May and Em didn’t mind – they were familiar with the best practices of runaways by now.

No one cared who you were when you took the bus, and travelling by dark was a good way to keep a low cover, which was how the group found themselves riding a night bus headed east. May and Em sat away from the others, as they would whenever they were in public. May was grateful for the many hours that lay between them and their next destination; she felt like she could breathe for the first time since climbing out of Dom’s truck.

She leaned into Em, her legs curled up beneath her. She was supposed to be sleeping, but with the space to breathe had also come the stillness her mind had been waiting for. It took advantage of the silence and filled it with a barrage of worries.

Beside her, Em fidgeted.

“Can’t sleep either?” she whispered, her voice just audible over the monotonous din of the bus.

Em gave an affirmative grunt.

Glancing up, May watched Em toy with a lock of dark hair. In their hasty packing, Em had the foresight to take one of her stage wigs – the long black one she used for their Moon and Ocean routine. May had trimmed it to a reasonable length and tucked her own hair beneath Em’s old ball cap. It wasn’t much as far as disguises went, but it was certainly better than nothing.

“On a scale from one to ten, how goth do I look in this thing?” Em asked, gesturing at the wig with a dramatic flourish.

May chuckled. “Ten. Very witchy.”

“Ooh, witchy. I can get into that.” Em wrapped her arms around May and let her cheek rest atop May’s head. “How are you holding up?”

Chewing her lower lip, May debated whether she should share the latest addition to her growing list of concerns. She hadn’t had the chance to tell Em what happened with Jeremy back at the motel.

Em broke her train of thought with a squeeze. “Babe? What’s on your mind?”

May sighed and decided to go for it.

“When we were back at the motel, Jeremy pulled me aside and told me he wouldn’t put up with me slowing things down.”

Em snorted. “Classic Jeremy.”

“He said he wouldn’t let me ‘get in the way’.”

“He doesn’t know you’re a Wish,” Em said, shrugging lightly. “He, Connor, and Priva have their abilities; him and his perfect memory, Connor and his super-Wish strength… have I ever told you that Priva only needs like, a handful of hours of sleep per week? And I mean, Rue may not be a Wish but even she has experience resisting the Loyals. Jeremy probably thinks you’re just an ordinary human, and if that were true, he wouldn’t be wrong in thinking you were in over your head.”

“Interesting,” May bristled. “That wasn’t what I thought he was implying at all.”

Em stared down at her quizzically before she clued in.

“Ah, you think this is about Audrey.”

“Can you blame me?” May tried to keep her voice down. “Ever since you told me the two of you were engaged I haven’t been able to-”

She was cut off by Em shifting out from beneath her. Righting herself, May twisted in her seat to see Em sitting pin straight and frowning at her in the flickering shadows.

I was never engaged to him, May,” she spoke tersely, her words simultaneously hurt and offended.

May’s heart dropped. “I’m sorry. I meant-”

Em grabbed May’s hands and held them tightly.

“Babe, I need you to believe me when I tell you that Audrey and I are different people.” Her intensity was impossible to miss, even as she whispered. “Please, tell me you understand.”

“You can’t blame me for being confused,” May hissed, the fear and frustration she had been suppressing bursting the holds of her patience. “I still don’t even understand why Jeremy expected you to be her. These are her friends – people who loved her. And here you are asking me to keep this all straight as if it made any rational sense to begin with.”

Sighing, Em sat back and took a moment for both their sakes. It was difficult to see her in the darkness but May didn’t need her eyes to know Em was studying her carefully.

“You’re right,” Em agreed at last. “I’ve been asking you to suspend your disbelief without giving you much reason too.”

May shook her head. “I’m not asking for you to placate me, Em – I’m asking you to help me understand. Please?”

Leaning back against the window, Em hummed thoughtfully. She gestured for May to join her, and she did, nestling into her as best she could across the uncomfortable bus seats.

“Where do you want to start?” Em mused, lacing her fingers with May’s.

“Tell me why Jeremy thought you would be Audrey,” May replied. She remembered the tattered security photo he had shown her when he first stormed into her life. “Do you look like her?”

Em chuckled softly. “Not really. Audrey wasn’t a ghost like me. She had her mother’s super thick, brown hair and this warm, honey brown skin that I’m guessing came from Welkin, like her eyes.”

“Her eyes?” May asked, peering up at Em and trying to imagine her painted in Audrey’s pallet.

“Gold,” Em answered. “Just like the Stars.”

May mulled this over, curiosity tugging at the corner of her mind.

Em continued. “She was a bit shorter than I am. Smaller in generally, actually. It’s like when Welkin built this new body for me they made everything about it… more. Bigger. Stronger. It’s as if they thought…”

She trailed off. Her expression was distant.

“As if they thought making you stronger might keep you safe,” May finished. Em’s physical strength had never escaped May’s notice – even now she could feel the firmness of her body beneath her own. She could imagine Welkin – like any parent – wanting to do whatever possible to protect their child, especially after what happened to her.

“Yeah,” Em breathed.

May swore she could feel the fissure Welkin’s disappearance left in Em’s heart widen from where she lay against her.

“So what was it then?” she asked, trying to pull Em back from the edge of despair. “What tipped Jeremy off?”

Beneath her, Em squirmed with unease.

“My abilities,” Em explained. “All Wishes have a distinctive natural advantage; like you and the way you can master virtually anything with only a little bit of study. But the things I can do – the levitation and manipulation of energy – only a Starborn can do that.”

“A Starborn? Are there more like you; people who were parented by a Star?”

Em shook her head. “Not anymore. We were a bit more common thousands of years ago but that’s it.”

Fear settled over May. She sat up and looked at Em in a panic. “If that’s the case then they all know. How could they not?”

“Babe, people don’t come back from the dead.” Em’s voice was calm and steady. “What Welkin did for me is unheard of. Jeremy might be holding out hope, but the others are probably looking for the logical answer. They likely think I’m another Starborn, just like the Loyals do. Our job is to come up with a convincing story and stick to it, okay?”

May toyed with her ring, her anxiety relentless despite Em’s self-assured tone. “Okay. So you’re a Starborn. We’ve never heard of Audrey or Welkin.”

“Right.” Em cupped May’s cheek. “Just another secret love-child between a Star and some earthly creature. Maybe we can tell them I’m half-elvish. That could be fun.”

“Sure,” May laughed weakly, trying to shrug off her apprehension.

In the darkness, Em kissed her; soft, slow, intoxicating.

“It’s going to be okay, my love,” she whispered against her lips. “Trust me.”

May swallowed and nodded, breathless.

With a gentle tug, Em pulled May back against her, wrapping her in her arms and offering her body as a makeshift bed. “Let’s try to get some sleep, okay?”

“Okay.”

It took only a moment for Em to drift off, the rhythm of her breath joining the concert of bus noise.

For May it would still be some time before sleep took her.

She could say she was okay as much as she liked.

She felt anything but.


[ Read Next Chapter ]

Ko-Fi May

Off Pitch Hype Train: Just Visiting

Check it out! It’s the first ever guest post on my blog! Today is cover reveal day for my amazing friend, Brianna! Check out the details on her debut f/f new adult contemporary romance (and see how you can win a copy!) below!

x,
M


Hello all! Thank you for having me here, and thank you so much to Maggie for helping me kick off my first ever cover reveal and giveaway!

Let me introduce myself. My name is Brianna Kienitz and I’m the author of f/f new adult contemporary romance, Off Pitch, available from Ninestar Press beginning October 9th. This novel is the first of two in the Pitch Prodigies series. It follows Northwestern University’s soccer star, Adeline Fahey, as she encounters a roadblock in her life plane in the form of Gabriella Soto, an equally driven cello prodigy, and the TA in Addie’s Spanish class.

I could babble on and on all day about my upcoming novel, but I’d like to share a few fun tidbits with you. But first, how about a cover reveal? Here it is, my beautiful cover from the very talented Natasha Snow!

Now that your eyeballs are filled with that awesomeness, I want to tell you a little bit about the T-rex. If you follow me on social media, you may have noticed a plethora of T-rex’s. But why? I didn’t choose the T-rex brand, it chose me. The T-rex costume plays a relatively small, albeit hilarious, part in Off Pitch. When I started pitching this story on Twitter, it became clear that the T-rex costume was garnering a lot of attention. I latched onto it and ran with it. I like to think that the T-rex played a large part in acquiring my publishing deal with Ninestar Press.

With that in mind, I present the official Off Pitch sticker!

I will be sending a sticker with every signed copy of the book, handing them out at events, and sticking them to every available surface.

Up next I’d like to share a little bit about our lesbian lovers. Maggie was kind enough to gift me with beautiful fanart of these lovely ladies, and I’ve been googly-eyed over it all day.

On the left, we have Adeline Fahey. She’s a 20-year-old bio-mechanical engineering major at Northwestern University. Her parents are Irish immigrants of the affluent variety (a touchy subject for Addie). Most importantly, she is Northwestern’s soccer star and an aspiring soccer professional. Bio-mechanical engineering is her backup.

Fun fact: Adeline’s last name is a version of my Irish surname.

On the right, you guessed it, Gabriella Soto, a graduate cellist and the smoking hot teaching assistant in Adeline’s Spanish class. Originally from Spain, she’s studying abroad on a full scholarship. Her parents are much less affluent than Addie’s, but she is quickly becoming the darling of Chicago’s classical music scene.

Fun fact: The cello is not the only thing she plays well.

Anyways, that’s it for this blog post. Don’t forget to comment Team Soccer, Team Cello, or Team T-rex, and then head on over to Rafflecopter to claim an extra entry to the Off Pitch Cover Reveal giveaway. If you haven’t already, you can head over to my blog for another entry, and visit my Facebook and follow me on Twitter for even more entries and to stay up to date on the latest Off Pitch news!

Off Pitch is available for pre-order from Ninestar Press starting today, so if giveaways aren’t your thing you can head over there to reserve your paperback or e-copy!

Finally, another thank you to Maggie Derrick for co-hosting this cover reveal with me. Be sure to follow her blog, and stalk her on Twitter and Facebook, and consider snagging an art commission with her while you’re at it. Happy trails!

Indie Review – Team Phison

Genre: contemporary romance
Rep: gay, bisexual, lesbian, trans
Content Warnings: strong language, alcohol, family issues, NSFW scenes

A free copy of this publication was sent to me in exchange for an honest review.

Official blurb:

For 55-year-old Phil Hutton, finding a new boyfriend is tough, especially since he’s still hurting from his ex leaving him for a younger man. Online dating has been a soul-crushing experience for the restaurant owner. Too many meat-haters interested in microbreweries or something called geocaching. His matches in the multiplayer for his favorite video game have been equally sucky too.

One night, he encounters a newbie who is so helpless, Phil can’t help showing him the ropes. It doesn’t take long for Phil to become interested in his enthusiastic teammate. 28-year-old Tyson Falls from Georgia loves working as a server in a rinky pizza joint and sees the best in everything. As Phil’s online dating matches get worse and his in-game matches with Tyson get better, he finds himself wanting to pursue the easygoing chatterbox with a thick, sexy drawl.

But Phil can’t get past the fear that Tyson couldn’t possibly want a fossil like him. If his brain doesn’t stop being so damn insecure, it might be game over for his heart.

My thoughts:

I’m going to be super honest here: an age-gap m/m romance isn’t something I would have picked up on my own. That said, after reading Team Phison I’m really glad I requested an ARC because it was wonderful. This charming novella had me hooked, thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it and reaching for it during snatched, quiet moments throughout the day so I could keep reading. It’s been a while since a book has captured my attention like that!

What works well:

Chace’s writing is the kind I just love to sink into; her prose was as enjoyable as the story itself. Phil is so well rounded that I felt like a fly on the wall of his life. There’s a ton of great LGBT+ representation throughout the story and the overall concept was unique and well-executed.

What doesn’t work well:

Honestly? I don’t think I have a single criticism for this one! I enjoyed it, I thought it was well-written, and I might just read it again!

Purchase this title on:

Amazon
Gumroad
Smashwords
Kobo