The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Forty

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[ CW: Strong language ]


Em’s pale eyes snapped open at the sound of May’s frantic voice. She gasped, a sound like wind whipping through a mountain valley. In her surprise, the light surrounding her froze, then began swirling backward, rapidly falling back on itself until it seemed to implode into her. The light winked out into a firefly-like glow beneath Em’s skin and she dropped from the air like a stone.

May fumbled for the switch, filling the small office with the buzz of harsh fluorescent light that felt grotesque after Em’s cosmic display. From where she sat in a heap on the floor, Em blinked up at May like a newborn.

“Ow,” she moaned, gingerly rising to her feet.

“Are you okay?” May asked, jumping forward to help her stand. “What was that?”

“Practice,” Em answered, looking sheepish.

“Practice for what?” May glanced around the room – Em had used old newspapers to cover the windows. The smudged faces of strangers stared back her from the pages. The boxes from the corner were stacked in front of the door, which explained why May had to force her way in. “What is all this?”

With a resigned sigh, Em dropped onto the car seat bench.

“I needed a bit of privacy,” she said, motioning to the newspapers and boxes. “Not a lot of that to go around here.”

“Privacy for what, Em?” May pressed, eyeing her curiously.

Em raised a hand and snapped her fingers. Like a flint, a blue light flared between them. When she inhaled, the light spread like flames, dancing across the tips of her fingers and into her palm. She exhaled, blowing air between her lips that extinguished the light into nothing more than glittering dust.

“I’ve been working on my abilities,” she said in a quiet voice. “I’m trying to get better at controlling them, myself. It’s something I should have done a long time ago.”

May’s breath hitched. “Em, you don’t…” she was afraid to ask the question – stemmed from Jeremy’s accusation – that had secretly plagued her since she first woke up in the Rookery; the question that haunted her dreams and turned them into nightmares. She was afraid to ask because she didn’t know how she’d handle the answer. “Do you blame me for what happened? Is all of this my fault?”

Blinking with surprise, Em gazed up at her. “You? Fuck, no. Why would you think that?” She scooted over and patted the space beside her. May sat, feeling quite weak without warning.

“Because I ran right into a Loyal ambush,” she admitted, the words tumbling out of her like water. “Because I insisted we help WIND in the first place. Because I kept you from finding them again.”

“Woah, woah, woah,” Em shook her head and turned so she was facing May head on. “I was never trying to find them. Don’t let Jeremy get in your head. Even if I’d never met you, I still wouldn’t have gone back.”

She made to lay a hand over May’s. For a moment she hesitated before finishing the gesture. The sensation of Em’s hand on hers made May’s stomach flutter the way it did during those brief, innocent touches back when they first met.

“I know things have been tense between us lately,” Em continued, tracing patterns on May’s skin with her thumb. “But nothing about the way I feel for you has changed.” Her eyes locked on May’s and held her gaze tightly. “I will never regret falling in love with you.”

May hadn’t realized how badly she needed to hear those words. It was as though a dam inside her burst, letting emotions she had suppressed crash through her veins and rush to her head like a flood. She let out a sob and flung her arms around Em’s neck, kissing her hard. Em pulled May closer and held her so tightly May thought they might just meld into one. When the kiss ended they curled into one another and sat in stillness, breathing one another in like it was the very first time they’d ever been so close.

“I don’t blame you for anything,” Em murmured, her fingers lacing through May’s thick hair. “If anyone is to blame for anything it’s me.”

“Don’t do that,” May said, sitting back. “I’m sorry I was so hard on you, I was-“

“Justified,” Em cut her off, leaning her forehead against May’s. “Your reaction was justified. And I’m not trying to be a martyr – if I had listened to Welkin in the first place maybe things would be different right now.”

“Welkin?” May cocked her head curiously. “What about them?”

Em took a deep breath. Talking about Welkin since their disappearance had been hard for her. May waited patiently for her to be ready.

“When I first woke up as me,” Em began, gesturing at herself. “Welkin insisted I spend time practicing my abilities. They said I’m more powerful than Audrey was and I needed to learn to control it, especially with Audrey’s life force still such a big part of me. In case you hadn’t noticed, she had a short fuse and a taste for vengeance.”

“I have noticed,” May said with a grim nod.

“But I was cocky,” Em continued, looking down with sad eyes. “I didn’t listen to them. I was always such a brat to them and I kick myself for it every day, but especially now.”

“Hey,” May whispered gently, stroking Em’s cheek. “Don’t do that to yourself. Who doesn’t push back against their parents?”

Em huffed a small laugh. “Well, I’m making up for it now. I’ve been working on my control, meditating and stuff. I don’t get as tired as I used to, so Welkin was clearly on to something.” She looked at May, her expression resolute. “When we find them again, I’m going to make them proud. Both of you.”

A knock came from the door, followed by the sound of it hitting the pile of boxes and a gravelly, “what the fuck?”

Grant’s head poked into the room. He peered around the door to the boxes and then to the girls.

“Do I even want to know?”

“Sorry,” Em replied, flushing. She extended a hand and clenched it into a loose fist. When she pulled it toward her, the boxes slid out of the way so Grant could push the door in with a shake of his head.

“Sorry to interrupt, ladies,” he said, deftly ignoring the way Em and May’s legs were still tangled together.

“But you have a phone call.”


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Tips For Making Your Wattpad Story Wattys Worthy

Watty’s season is here again!

For anyone who isn’t super familiar, The Wattys are like the Oscars of Wattpad. Every summer hundreds of thousands of books are entered for consideration, with only a small group ultimately winning the coveted title in a handful of categories.

Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 12.10.50 PMLast year I was extraordinarily lucky enough to be one of those winners. The Wattpad edition of my first novel, The Star and the Ocean, was named one of 50 winners in 2017’s Watty Awards. It’s an accomplishment I still haven’t gotten over, and it’s exciting to know that a new round of authors will soon get to experience that special thrill for themselves!

But if you’ve been following me for a while, you know I actually submitted TSATO for The Wattys in 2016 as well (it was only because I didn’t finish the book until February of 2017 that it was eligible to be re-submitted last year as well).

Needless to say, I didn’t win the first time around.

While I didn’t say anything publicly, I was SUPER heartbroken over it. I, like so many other entrants, truly thought my book had what it took to win. But because I knew I’d have a second shot I excused myself from my pity party and took some steps to make sure the book was as good as it could be when the contest opened back up again in 2017.

Whether you missed the mark last year or are planning on giving it a shot this year for the first time, here are some of the things I did to get my book ready for the Wattys!

Look for feedback and actually do something with it

Even the most constructive criticism can be hard to take, but if you want to improve your work you’re going to have to suck it up. Ask your readers for feedback and pay close attention to what they have to say. A lot of it might end up just being matters of preference but if you see legitimate issues cropping up, make the effort to address them.

I completely restructured the beginning of The Star and the Ocean, as well as the length of my chapters, in September of 2016 because of reader feedback. It was a massive undertaking (not to mention a frustrating pain in the ass) but in the end, it did make the story stronger and more attractive to readers.

Finish your story (or at least be as close as you can)

Technically your story doesn’t have to be finished to be eligible for The Wattys (in the past you’ve been required to have a minimum of five parts up) but I truly think it helps. The first time I submitted TSATO it wasn’t quite halfway finished, whereas last year it was complete. I’m sure the judges do their absolute best to keep an open mind when going into unfinished stories, but you’ve got to admit that it’s easier to appreciate and understand a full and complete work over a handful of chapters. Think of it this way: would you ever pick a favourite movie based solely on the teaser alone?

Get those reads

This piece of advice is completely based on speculation and observation. The number of reads your story has don’t technically factor into the judging criteria, and there are definitely winners each year with only a few thousand reads. But the majority of winning stories tend to have read counts on the higher side. Does it matter? Probably not. Does it hurt to try? Nope.

If you’re stumped over how to drum up reads, begin by understanding that no one breaks the 100k read mark overnight. When I submitted TSATO in the Wattys the first time I had around 3k reads by the time the contest closed. In 2017 I had over 100k when the contest opened. It’s a long game and you have to be committed to playing it.

Admittedly, a lot of my reads came from features; first by making the Wattpad Featured Fantasy list and again by their official LGBT account. While Wattpad has since changed how its Featured List works, there are still plenty of other Book of the Month lists you can apply – or have someone nominate you – for. I also recommend entering book clubs. They’re a bit time consuming but you’re guaranteed reads PLUS most book clubs require participants to leave feedback, which we already know can also be helpful.

Be kind to yourself

Would it be amazing to win? Damn right! Are you a shitty writer if you don’t? Of course not. Not everyone can win and there are SO MANY great books out there that will never win anything. No contest defines your worth as a writer, so don’t let this one stop you from doing what you love!

Best of luck to everyone who throws their hat into the ring this year – I’ll be rooting for you!


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Thirty Five

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[ CW: vomit ]


May awoke in a panic.

Her body was numb and, from what she could see in the dim light, she was in a small office-like room she didn’t recognize.

Where am I? she wondered, fear rising in her throat like bile. The last thing she remembered was being ambushed by the Loyals at Marina’s house. A vision of Em’s face contorted with rage flashed through her memory. Where is Em?

Without thinking, May sat bolt upright. In an instant the numbness in her body was replaced by a painful sensation of blood rushing back into her extremities. Her head pounded, her vision spun, and she barely had enough time to lean over the side of whatever makeshift bed she had been sleeping on before vomiting.

“Ugh, very nice,” said a disgusted voice she had never heard before.

“Leave her alone, Jun,” Em replied, her voice making May’s heart skip. “It’s not her fault.”

May felt the warmth of Em’s body as she sat next to her. Gentle fingers brushed the hair back from May’s face as Em crooned, “It’s okay, babe. Just take it slow.”

Embarrassed as she was, the purging seemed to be exactly what May needed. She sat back up weakly and swallowed one deep breath after another.

“Here,” she heard the voice Em had identified as Jun say. She peered up to find a man silhouetted in the doorway to the room. He tossed Em a towel before turning on his heel and disappearing again.

Em twisted to face May and used the corner of the towel to wipe at her mouth. She reached over to a nearby desk, and picked up a glass. “Here, drink this while I clean up.”

May did as she was told. Every sip of water was like a dose of medicine. She watched in silence as Em used the towel to mop up the mess on the floor. As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, May was able to make out scattered papers covering the surface of the desk, photos and newspaper clippings pinned to the wall above her, and a collection of dusty cardboard boxes precariously stacked in the corner. Em excused herself to discard the soiled towel and, from beyond the doorway, May could just make out a group of unfamiliar voices and the metallic clanging of tools.

Jun’s voice, closer than the others, was barely intelligible over the din. “Ew, just toss it in the burn barrel.”

When Em returned she smelled of cheap hand soap and motor oil.

“Close your eyes,” she said softly.

When May did, she flicked on a lamp sitting amid the mess on the desk. May hadn’t even had a chance to open her eyes before she felt herself encased in Em’s arms. “You had me so worried, babe. I’m so glad you’re awake. How do you feel?”

“Like I’ve been rocked by a massive wave,” May answered, her voice still hoarse from the attack. “Where are we?”

Em pulled back from their embrace and reached into her shirt, producing the folded paper from Priva she had hidden in her bra. “One of the rendezvous points from Priva’s list.”

“Right.” May grimaced, a headache throbbing behind her eyes. “What happens now?”

“I’m not sure,” Em admitted. “I suppose we just wait and see if they come for us.”

May looked to her. “And if the Loyals come for us instead?”

Em blanched. A fraught, uncomfortable silence fell between them.

When it became clear that May was waiting for her to say something, a sadness crept across Em’s face. She reached out to caress her cheek. “I’m so sorry, Maybe.”

Her apology could have been for anything at this point – their tenuous sense of safety, the violence May had endured, or the multitude of nightmarish things she had witnessed. Remembering the young agent as he was thrown against the ground and the sickening sound that followed, May had to swallow against another wave of nausea.

She pulled back.

“You’re sorry?” May trembled. “Em, you killed someone.”

Em flinched as though she had slapped her. “I didn’t mean – May, I was trying to protect you.”

“Not like that.” May’s voice shook but her piercing stare did not waver. “You can’t kill people because of me.”

“Are you kidding me?” Em balked, incredulous. Rising anger darkened her features. “What do you expect me to do when you’re in danger?”

May grabbed Em by the shoulders and gripped her tight. Emotion – fear, fury, and desperation – swelled inside her. She pulled Em to her so they were eye to eye and spoke slow and clear.

“Emanthy, you are not a killer.” She pressed into the word ‘you’ like a panic button. “I have heard enough about Audrey to know she was no angel. You tell me all the time that you and her are different people. I need that to be true.”

Em’s anger morphed into a look of horror as she processed what May was saying.

“Please, Em.” May jostled her, every word as urgent as they were pleading. “That ruthless, terrifying person you become when you’re protecting me is not who you are. It can’t be.”

“I…” Em’s hand covered her mouth. For a moment she was back in Omea, feeling Audrey’s rage and relentless thirst for justice overtaking her as she stood staring down a swaggering Kane on a moonlit patio. Yes, she wanted to protect May. But that violence, that anger – that was not hers.

Or perhaps, a small voice whispered at the back of her mind, she and Audrey weren’t as different as Em wanted to believe.

She sobbed.

“Maybe,” Em whispered fearfully. “What have I done?”


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Thirty Four

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CW: strong language, combat/violence, blood


May was almost at the end of the long, winding driveway before shame finally put an end to her fleeing.

“Why do I always run away?” she shouted, admonishing herself. Passersby on the street cast curious looks in her direction and whispered to one another before hustling away. But May was too caught up in herself to care about the scene she must have been making.

As she worked to catch her breath, May’s mind replayed Jeremy’s furious accusation on a loop.

This is all your fucking fault.

“Who am I kidding?” she groaned. “I know exactly why I ran this time.”

With only a few words, Jeremy struck the barely concealed nerve May had been nursing since the early days of her relationship with Em. She recalled the teary – on her part – confession she made to Em in the hospital room in Tenna; that she had always been on edge, waiting for Em to wake up one morning longing for the life she used to have.

Em reassured her then, but May couldn’t help wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t gotten in the way.

And what was going to happen now that the truth was out?

Stop, she thought, squeezing her eyes shut and pressing her palms over her ears as though that might shut out all her worries. Em loves you and you love her. You need to trust her right now. She needs you.

May’s eyes snapped open. “She needs me. What am I doing out here?”

Without another thought she turned on her dancer’s toes back toward the house.

She had barely taken her first stride when she heard a cold voice from behind her shout, “Stay right where you are.”

It was as though ice water had been released through May’s veins. She froze, petrified by the sound of a voice she recognized from her nightmares.

Peering over her shoulder, May’s fear was confirmed: Melanie, the Loyal agent who had first discovered them hiding in Tenna, stood at the mouth of the driveway. She held a device in her firm grip and had it trained right at May. Like an infestation, other equally menacing and armed people swarmed in from the other side of the hedges that lined the property. It was an ambush.

“May, wait!” Em’s voice came from around the bend in the driveway, blocked from view by a dense topiary. “Where did you go?”

Footsteps. She wasn’t alone. May’s breathing hitched; they were going to run straight into a waiting Loyal army.

Urgency sparked inside May, thawing her frozen limbs. She darted forward and cried, “Stop, it’s a-”

Without warning, pain the likes of being doused in boiling water ripped through May’s body. Every muscle in her body seized, tightening like stone, and refused to respond to anything her brain begged for. Vision jittering with the current of whatever force assaulted her, May saw Em round the edge of the bushes.

“May!” Em screamed, her eyes round with terror.

The current stopped. May felt as though she had been pushed down the rocky slope of a ravine. Her knees buckled, muscles screaming for rest, but before she could fall a hand grabbed her roughly by the shoulder and pulled her back. May barely registered it was Melanie who pinned her, an arm wrapped tightly across May’s chest. She was too distracted by the sight of Connor throwing his own arms around Em just as she tried to lunge forward.

It was all happening so fast and yet seemed to play out in slow motion. May’s ears were ringing but she saw Connor’s lips move in Em’s ear as he tightened his crushing grip around her.

Em’s face twisted. She threw her head back, howling at the sky.

When she looked forward again, Em had changed. The brilliance of her starlit skin faded to the cold pallor of corpse, and through her wild and snapping silver hair, May could see the whites of her eyes darkening like a storm-threatened sky. May’s heart clenched. She had only seen Em is such a state once before: the night Kane broke into the tree house and attacked May. Em’s fury had been absolute, and she had sent Kane crashing down to the beach below to prove it.

It was May’s threatened safety that hit a dangerously primal switch somewhere in Em. As May gazed fearfully at Em’s animalesque transformation, she wondered if there were any lengths Em wouldn’t go to keep her safe.

Hunching, Em let out a wild scream before sending a shockwave out from her center with a wide sweeping of her arms. Connor couldn’t maintain his hold and rocketted backward into Jeremy and Priva. This time when Em lunged forward, no one was able to stop her. She shot across a span of several spaces, making a beeline for May before anyone could think to react. As she moved, a sparking mass of energy gathered in her open fist.

Just as Em reached her arm back for the momentum to sling the manifested orb at the line of Loyal agents who had darted toward her, one of them drew his weapon – the same current-producing device Melanie had used on May – and fired. Em released the ball of energy and the two forces collided mid air and exploded. The impact sent Loyals careening backward.

Another agent stormed forward as the others scattered away from her. The agent carried what looked to be an arm-mounted cannon that sizzled and snapped as it charged. She squeezed her hand into a fist and the weapon fired a burst of energy not unlike Em’s own. The attack seemed to take Em by surprise, her locked and furious gaze faltering for the slightest of moments. She only had enough time to throw up a quick protective barrier before the mass hit, blasting her in the opposite direction. A raspy gasp escaped May’s scorched throat as she watched Em’s body hit the pavement and roll.

But rather than skidding to a stop, Em leaned into the momentum of her body and used it to windmill onto her feet, all while gathering another cluster of energy in her fist. A prideful look of satisfaction was still plastered on the cannon wielder’s face when Em landed, rolled on the outer edge of her left foot, heel to toe, and pivoted. She launched her assault as she turned, nailing the Loyal agent in the chest. Shrieking in agony as she was flung back, the agent caught Melanie’s shoulder with her elbow.

Melanie swore as she lost her grip on May, who had just enough energy to surge out of her hold to freedom. Once her full weight was back on her feet however, May didn’t have the strength to stand. She collapse in a tangle of limbs still wracked by lingering aftershocks from the current she had endured.

The ringing in her ears subsided just enough that May could hear the members of WIND screaming at Em to stop – Em, who was again barreling toward May with frightening speed. Yet another agent, this one looking so young with his cheeks flushed and eyes wide, reached down to haul May back to her feet.

His hand had almost closed around her upper arm when his entire body froze in place, limbs splayed in a pantomime of ducking downward. Em hovered in the expanse between WIND and the Loyals, toes skimming the ground with one arm outstretched, hand clutched as though she had caught something in her grasp.

Jerking her arm up, the young agent shot into the sky and dangled helplessly above them all.

“Stop!” Melanie cried, hands out and eyes darting rapidly between Em and her airborne hostage.

“Leave us alone,” Em demanded, her voice like deep and rolling thunder.

Melanie raised her weapon.

Em snarled and wrenched her arm down so fast that the young agent hurtled back to earth and hit the ground with a gut-curdling crunch. May clamped her eyes shut so she didn’t have to see the man’s collapsed skull or the spray of blood that painted the driveway only a few feet from where she still lay crumpled in a heap.

People on both sides of the stand-off screamed. Em didn’t pause to consider what she had done. Instead she used the distraction of her violence to dive forward and scoop May into her arms. With a powerful, no doubt adrenaline-aided jump, Em vaulted into the air and flew off.

May only caught a bleary glimpse of the chaos as it shrank beneath them before she passed out.


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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 Thirty One

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When May finally made her way upstairs she found Em lingering outside the half-closed kitchen door, listening to the excited chatter on the other side of it. Her eyes – glassy, bottom lashes glittering – turned to May and the corners of her mouth twitched into the smallest of smiles.

“I thought I’d give them a bit of privacy,” Em whispered, hitching a thumb toward the voices. “Sounds like it’s been a long time since they’ve seen each other, right?”

May frowned, knowing she was lying.

“Em,” May breathed her name and took Em’s hand in both of hers. “You don’t have to-“

They jumped as the door swung open.

Rue stood on the threshold, her face splitting into a delighted grin. “There you two are! It’s so good to see you safe and sound! Come on now.”

She pulled the girls into the kitchen, cutting the conversation like a switch. Every face turned to them and, just like Rue, everyone lit up.

“You’re alive!” Priva cheered, pulling Em into a tight bear hug.

Em laughed. “Of course we’re alive, dork.”

“Are you both alright?” Connor asked from the other end of the kitchen island. “No one’s hurt?”

“We’re fine,” May answered, watching Em squirm and struggle against Priva’s boa constrictor grip and giggling.

She turned to ask Connor the same question just as Jeremy stepped up to her, startling her.

“Relax.” Jeremy lifted his hands. “I come in peace.”

His voice was soft and friendly and made May realize he had never spoken to her like that before. Her eyes searched his face and regarded the blooms of purple and yellow around his eyes and across his already-delicate looking cheekbones. His split lip looked painful, but he grinned at her anyway. “Don’t worry; it’s not as bad as it looks.”

A well of emotion swelled in May’s chest as she remembered every blow that had left those bruises on Jeremy’s face. “It looked pretty bad when it was happening. I’m so glad you’re okay – I can’t believe I just left you there.”

“You did exactly what you should have done,” he insisted with a tight shake of his head. “Thanks to you the team was able to act. They would have been fucked if you hadn’t warned them. Which is why I, uh…” his casual air slipped and suddenly he seemed awkward. Clearing his throat, Jeremy thrust his hand forward. “Thank you.”

It took a second for May to realize he was serious. Surprise turned to happy relief, and she smiled and took his hand, shaking it firmly. “You’re welcome, Jeremy.”

“On that note, I should probably check in,” Connor announced, pulling a nondescript cell phone from his pocket. He turned and made his way to the breakfast nook on the far side of the room and spoke under his breath to a voice on the other end. Knowing that he was communicating with a Loyal agent made May shudder.

“While he’s doing that, is anyone hungry?” Marina asked, surveying the group. The remaining members of WIND looked ragged and wilted with exhaustion. “I’ll make us something to eat.”

Jeremy, moving gingerly, started to make his way over to her. “I’ll help.”

“I don’t think so,” Rue clucked, pulling a chair over and waving Jeremy into it. “Your job right now is to rest. Marina, I’ll give you a hand.”

As the two women got to work, Connor finished his call. He gave Jeremy the slightest of nods and the battered redhead relaxed back into his seat.

Smiling softly, Connor gazed around the room, taking in what he could gleam of his sister’s life from the details. His eyes landed on the fridge and class photo of Myles held beneath a magnet made from a pinecone with plastic googly eyes.

“He’s gotten so big, Rini,”

Marina glanced over her shoulder. “Tell me about it. I feel like he was still in diapers a couple weeks ago.”

“He sure looks like dad.” There was so much heartache in Connor’s eyes, but he kept smiling anyway.

“He does,” Marina agreed. “He’s playing soccer now. He’s pretty good at it too. Oh, and he started taking music lessons a few years ago. Plays the guitar. He does not get musical talent from our side of the family, that’s for sure.”

“Must be from Marcus’ side.” Connor grinned.

A phone rang, making Marina jump.

She pulled her phone out from her back pocket and squinted at the name on her caller I.D.

“Speaking of Marcus. I’ll be back in a sec,” she said, stepping out of the room to answer the call.

“Oh, I need to give you this before I forget.” Priva dug through her pockets, unearthing a folded sheet of notebook paper. She handed it to Em. “This is a list of meet-up locations for the rest of our route, in order. If we get split up again, head to the closest address. These are the only places and people we can trust.”

“Don’t lose it,” Jeremy said, miming the action of putting something in his pocket. “One of you should always have it on you.”

“Got it,” Em confirmed, reaching down her collar and stashing the list in her bra. She gave May a wink, who responded with a deep blush and a playful shove.

“So, Jeremy,” May said, trying out this tentative new friendship that seemed to have settled between them. “Marina showed us a security camera picture you sent her so she knew which train we’d be on. How did you do that?”

“It’s called a screen cap,” he teased, smirking – playfully this time – as May put her hands on her hips and shook her head at him.

“Did you hack their security system?” she asked. “How did you learn to do that?”

Jeremy shrugged, then winced. “It’s just one of the surprisingly useful skills I managed to pick up over the years.”

“Who just ‘picks up’ hacking?” Then, as soon as she asked, May remembered. “Does it have anything to do with your ability?”

“Ha, no.” Jeremy chuckled. “It would be cool if I could actually do everything I’ve ever seen or read about, but that’s not how it works.”

The kitchen door opened and Marina hurried back into the kitchen.

“Sorry about that,” she said, fussing around the counter as she spoke. “That took longer than I expected.”

“Did they make it okay?” May asked, noting Marina’s far-off expression. “Marcus and Myles?”

“Oh, they’re still driving.” Marina gave her head a shake. “They were just calling to check in. Myles got carsick, poor kid.”

“Ew.” Jeremy pulled a face. Marina ignored him.

“So, how long do you guys plan on staying?” she asked, glancing around the room.

Rue sighed. “Not long, I’m afraid.”

“Will you at least be spending the night?” Marina looked hopefully at her brother. “It’s been so long since the last time we were together.”

Connor ran his fingers along the tight line of his lips.

“It would be nice to have a short break,” he agreed. The others nodded and shrugged their shoulders. “But only if you’re sure. I don’t want you to feel obligated to put yourself at risk any more than you already have”

“Not at all.” Marina grinned.

“One night off and then we’ll get back at it,” Em announced, as though her words were absolute. No one disagreed.

Em absentmindedly placed a hand lightly on the center of her chest and imagined the hammering of her heart.

“We have important work to do.”


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Twenty Nine

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Later that evening, Marina showed May and Em to a spare bedroom and told them to make themselves comfortable.

“I’m going to make sure Myles is actually in bed,” she said, watching as the girls surveyed the room. “Marcus and I are at the end of the hall – last door on the left. Knock if you need anything.”

She pulled the door closed behind her with a soft click. May listened to her retreating footsteps until they disappeared up the stairs to the floor Myles’ bedroom was on. Down the hall Marcus, Marina’s husband, had already retired for the night. In the quiet, the house felt like a trap and May’s unease resurfaced once more.

Though Em had already collapsed into a full sprawl on the bed, May felt too restless to join her. She began to pace, pausing at the window. Her hand hovered at the closed curtains. A paranoid, anxious part of her brain begged her to peek out, but she was stopped by the memory of Marina asking them to stay out of sight. Reluctantly she pulled away and wandered back to the door. She checked for a lock and, when she didn’t find one, dragged an old wooden chair from the writing desk in the corner and wedged its back beneath the handle.

It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Marina or her family; May had simply learned not to get too comfortable.

“I wonder how much longer the others will be,” May wondered aloud, examining her makeshift blockade with a satisfied nod.

It took her a beat to realize Em wasn’t listening.

When she glanced over, May saw Em’s gaze trained on the ceiling. Her expression was one of deep and troubled thought. May sank gently onto the mattress beside her and laid a soft hand on Em’s shoulder.

“Babe?” she inquired quietly. “Are you sure everything’s okay?”

Em blinked, looking at May as though she had forgotten she was in the room. “What?”

“I asked if everything was alright.”

Biting her lip, Em rolled her face onto May’s hand and pressed her cheek into its warmth. “I don’t know. I guess so.”

But May knew her better than that. She laid down next to Em so they were face to face.

“Talk to me.”

Em cringed; she knew it was pointless to protest.

“It’s about Audrey,” she admitted without looking May in the eyes. She had never been comfortable talking about her past life with May more than was absolutely necessary.

“What about her?” May hoped the inquisitive cadence of her voice didn’t give away the flutter of panic in her stomach.

“I think…” Em squinted, thinking hard about what she wanted to say next. “I think I’m starting to forget her. Well, not her exactly, but her memories. Her feelings. I didn’t realize it until we got here and now I’m wondering how long it’s been going on.”

“What kind of things are you forgetting?” May asked. She had a hard enough time reconciling the fact that Em was host to two lives worth of memories.

Em frowned. “I forgot Marina has a kid. And yet I remembered she’s a computer engineer. It’s weird.”

“That’s awful,” May said, stroking Em’s silver strands back from her face. She combed her fingertips gently along Em’s scalp and watched her features relax into the sensation. “What do you think is causing it?”

“Probably just time to be honest,” Em admitted, closing her eyes. “When they first brought me back, Welkin told me it would take a while to settle into being me. But even they had no idea what that would look like. Maybe in time I’ll forget about Audrey altogether.”

May let the idea roll around in her mind. As much as Em’s past had left her feeling troubled, the idea of her losing that identity somehow felt worse to her.

“Or maybe two sets of memories is just too much for one brain to hold on to,” she offered. “I have a hard enough time remembering people’s names and I’ve just got my own memories to deal with.”

Em chuckled quietly. “I guess that makes sense. It makes me wonder what else I’ve forgotten though.”

“Are you worried?”

“Not exactly. A little sad, a little relieved.”

May was surprised. “Relieved?”

“It’s like you said, two sets of memories aren’t easy to juggle. It’s not like it’s been peaceful or anything.” Em shrugged into the mattress. “Besides, there’s a lot about Audrey I’d rather not have to live with.”

“Hey.” May touched her forehead to Em’s, staring resolutely into her eyes. “No matter what happens, you’re still you.”

“Thanks, love.” Em smiled. “What about you? How are you handling all of this?”

“It’s a little weird,” May admitted. “Being here with Connor’s family while everyone else is out there somewhere. I feel like I can’t relax. Do you trust Marina? Are we safe?”

Em’s arms circled around May and pulled her close, burying her face into the soft curls of May’s hair. “Connor and the rest of WIND are so careful; if they trust Marina right now, I think we’re fine.” May nestled into every nook and curve of her body until she could imagine their edges blurring into one. “As far as whether or not we’re safe, I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”

May smiled into the softness of Em’s neck. She wasn’t naive enough to let the burden of their safety fall solely on Em’s shoulders, but her girlfriend’s conviction was enough to let her relax just enough to drift off to sleep.

*

The following morning, May awoke to Em crawling out of bed.

“Don’t get up,” Em whispered, planting a soft kiss on May’s forehead. “I’m just going to have a shower.”

With a groggy nod, May snuggled into the warm place Em left behind and tried to recapture the last wisps of slumber. She hovered in that hazy threshold between wakefulness and sleep for a few minutes, but the sound of running in the halls pulled her fully into the morning. Yawning, she dragged herself from beneath the covers and pulled Em’s hoodie over her shoulders.

May wandered out into the hallway, the air still with the chill of morning. She craned her head and followed the sound of the footsteps bounding down the hallway above and onto the stairs. When the offending feet came into view she discovered it was Myles racing toward her. His duffle bag, overstuffed into a bulging mass, bounced against his back with every step.

“Hi,” Myles said, jumping over the last stair and landing with a heavy thump on both feet. He smiled up at May with the confidence she recalled coming easy at that age.

“Good morning,” May replied, returning the smile. “Are you off to another game?” She gestured to his bag.

“Nope.” Myles hitched the strap so the bag sat higher on his back. “Dad and I are going to visit my aunt Eliza for a few days. He and mom are letting me skip school and everything. Cool, huh?”

“Wow, sure is,” May marvelled, genuinely surprised. No one in the family had said anything about a trip when they had sat around with their bowls of ice cream the night before. She followed Myles as he thundered down the final flight of stairs, her soft footsteps nothing more than a whisper by comparison.

“Have you got everything?” She heard Marina ask from the garage entrance way.

May stepped into the room just as Marina wrapped her arms around Myles and held him long and tight. She didn’t let go until her son started to squirm.

“Mom! You’re squishing me!”

“Sorry, baby.” Marina reached for her husband and gave him a kiss. “Call me when you get there, okay?”

“It’ll be the first thing I do,” Marcus promised, holding a hand over his heart. “I won’t even stop to say hello to my sister.” He winked as Marina snorted, then turned his attention to May. She froze; she didn’t think they had noticed she was there. ”It was nice to meet you, May.”

“Likewise,” she replied, her cheeks flushing involuntarily. Marina wouldn’t look at her.

Once Marcus and Myles were loaded into the vehicle, Marina watched and waved, smiling brightly until they turned onto the road and disappeared behind the hedges. Her smile faded, and she closed the garage with the tap of a button.

“Did you send them away because of us?” May asked when Marina shut the side door, locking it behind her. She gave May a critical look, and then sighed.

“No offence.” She breezed past May and motioned for her to follow. “I couldn’t risk them getting caught up in whatever my brother is up to. Listen, I want to talk to you two. Where’s-”

Em came trotting down the stairs, shaking out her damp hair. “Did I just hear the garage? Are they here?”

“No.” Marina frowned. She opened a door to a set of stairs that descended into the basement. She nodded, gesturing downstairs. “Come on, I have something to show you.”


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Twenty Eight

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Endless possibilities flashed through May’s mind, all of them bad.

Had the others been caught? Were they dead? Was all this a set-up?

Pulse pounding, she and Em followed Marina through a side door and into the house. As if she could read May’s anxious mind, Em reached over and took her hand tightly in her own.

Marina didn’t speak. They followed her through a series of rooms – an entryway littered with shoes and the debris of a busy life, a kitchen stocked with state-of-the-art appliances covered in grubby fingerprints – and into a dark sitting room. She closed a pair of frosted glass doors and drew the window curtains before turning to May and Em.

“Are you alright?” she asked, scanning the pair with worried eyes. The look of concern on her face reminded May of someone, but May couldn’t quite put her finger on it. “Are you hurt?”

Em shook her head. “No, just tired. Kind of hungry.”

On cue, May’s stomach let out a deep and embarrassing growl. She hadn’t realized how famished she was until Em had said something.

“I can imagine.” Marina dropped into an armchair, looking almost as exhausted as May and Em. She gestured to the couch and the pair sat tentatively.

“Where are the others?” May asked. Her brain was still shouting terrible what if’s at her. “Are they safe?”

Marina sighed deeply. “I have no idea. Connor would never tell me that, no matter how much trouble they were in.”

May’s stomach lurched. “Trouble?”

“They’re coming though, right?” Em asked. Her expression was one of calm but the grip she had on May’s hand gave her away. When her eyes flicked, May knew she was sizing up the room just in case they needed to run.

“They are,” Marina assured them. “I promise, they’ll meet you as soon as they’re able. I don’t know the details of what’s going on and, before you say anything, I don’t want to know either. But when my brother reached out to me I knew it had to be serious.”

“Why’s that?” May asked. She hadn’t known Connor had a sister until Em mentioned it back in Luxton. It dawned on her she didn’t know how involved in WIND and Wishes this woman was.

“Because I never hear from Connor,” Marina said. She smiled, but her eyes were sad. “Generally speaking, it’s always been safer that way. I didn’t pry when he asked me to find you, but I knew it was important.”

“How’d you know we’d be on that train?” May still didn’t feel as safe; she wasn’t convinced they were in the clear yet. Despite everything, it just felt too easy.

“Jeremy let me know.” Marina pulled out her phone, opened it to a glowing message, and handed it to May. “That asshole has eyes everywhere.”

The message was from an unknown number. All it said was “8:15”. Attached was a pixelated security camera photo of May purchasing tickets at the Luxton station. Under different circumstances, the image would have made May sick with fear. Instead it filled her with a rush of relief; if Jeremy was somehow hacking into security cameras, it meant he had made it out of that alley alive.

Having read the message over May’s shoulder, Em sat back. “So, now what?”

“If you’re caught up with my brother and his friends, you likely need a safe place to wait,” Marina said, taking her phone back. “You can stay here, but only on the condition that you both stay out of sight. I don’t want any trouble, got it?”

Somewhere in the house, a door slammed, making May jump.

“Well?” Marina’s intense gaze held them both.

There was a sound of shuffling, followed by footsteps coming their way.

May cut a wide-eyed glance to Em, panic rising back up with each thump of the incoming footsteps.

“Of course,” Em answered with a nod. “We could use a safe place to lay low.”

Marina smiled, warm and relieved.

“Mom?” A voice shouted from somewhere down the hall.

Something in May’s mind clicked into place. The mess in the entryway and the fingerprints in the kitchen suddenly made sense: Connor’s sister had a family of her own. May recognized Marina’s worried expression because she had seen her own mother and sister wear the same one over the years.

“In here, hun.”

The door squeaked open and through the crack peered a sandy-haired boy of about nine or ten. His eyes landed on May and Em, full of curiosity.

“Where’s dad?” Marina asked the boy as he took a cautious  step into the room.

“We stopped at the store on the way home,” he replied, glancing at his mother. “He’s putting the groceries away.” He wore a grass-stained soccer uniform. One of the knee-high socks had slid down his shin. May’s mind wandered back to Omi, the same way it usually did when she saw young boys who reminded her of all the things about her nephew’s life she was going to miss.

“Go give him a hand, please,” Marina said with the contrary gentle firmness only a mother can pull off. “We’ll be out in a second.”

“Who are they?”

“Myles, go please.”

The boy harrumphed but did as he was told, closing the door as he went.

“Like I said.” Marina was looking at May and Em again when they turned back to face her. “I won’t ask any questions. If you don’t cause any trouble, you can stay. Fair?”

It was May who nodded this time. The reality of what Marina was putting on the line for them was all the assurance she needed. “Very.”

Marina stood and smiled. “Good. I promised Myles ice cream after his soccer practice, but I’m sure I can find you something with a bit more substance first.” She winked.

May grinned. Something about the warmth of a family setting made her feel at ease.

But when she looked at Em, it was clear she didn’t share that feeling. Brows furrowed tightly, Em was so deep in thought she didn’t notice May stand up until she crouched down in front of her.

“Are you okay?” May asked quietly.

Em gave her head a shake and with it, her grimace faded. She forced a smile.

“Sure.” She took May’s hand. “Let’s go get that ice cream.”


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Twenty Seven

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The only visible reaction Em had to May’s announcement was the tension pulling at her shoulders.

“Where?” she whispered, throwing quick, surreptitious glances to her right and then left. She didn’t want to tip whoever was following them that they had noticed.

“A few feet behind us,” May whispered back, knowing that breaking into a run would have been the worst decision she could make but desperately wishing she could anyway.

“Melanie?”

The memory of the relentless Loyal woman who had pursued them more than a year ago in Tenna, flipping their whole world upside down, flashed through May’s mind. Her stomach clenched.

“No.” Thank goodness.

Em licked her lips and May could tell what she was thinking – they were sitting ducks out in the open like this; they needed to lose the agent.

Based on the amount of people milling through the massive main hall of York Central Station, it was clear the city was a busy and popular place to be. Everyday commuters wove expertly through swarms of gawking and disoriented tourists. May noticed a rather large gathering – a tour group from the looks of things – congregating close to a coffee stop built into the smooth limestone. She nodded discreetly in their direction.

“Good call,” Em muttered. Without another word they crisscrossed through a stream of people heading in the opposite direction, splitting up just enough to make it harder to keep an eye on both of them without wandering out of sight of each other.

May got to the tour group first and wedged her way into the cluster as if she belonged there. She kept her head down and, rather than stopping in the false sense of security the densely packed crowd provided, continued through to the other side. The tourists themselves were in such a state of disorganization they didn’t spare her a second glance. She emerged in time to see Em skirting around the far side of the group, the hood of her sweatshirt up and ducking low.

Moving faster now, they scurried into the coffee stop and around the line. Em scanned the room.

“If there’s a way out of here,” she said. “It’s going to be through their back room.”

Behind the counter and the three hectic baristas hung a curtain that blocked the back from sight. May homed in on the solitary woman working the bar – young, pretty, with plenty of black eyeliner – and leaned over the counter to get her attention.

“Do you need the bathroom key?” the barista asked, sounding not unfriendly but certainly distracted.

May shook her head. Em watched her carefully, wondering what her girlfriend was up to with the frightened look she had pulled over her face like a mask.

“Is there a way outside through the back?” she asked in a hushed, hurried voice. “There’s a creep who was on our train and now he’s following us around.”

For the first time the girl stopped moving, her expression dropping in an instant. Her dark-lidded eyes flicked up to the buzzing line of customers as if she might be able to pick the guy out without knowing more than what May had told her.

May was banking on the chance that the barista probably could have, had their pursuer been real.

“Shit,” Em hissed, turning sharply away from the crowd and tugging on the drawstrings of her hood. “I just saw him lurking in the hall.”

“Okay.” The barista glanced quickly at her co-workers before nodding toward the curtain. “Come with me.”

She waved May and Em around the counter and held back the curtain so they could slip through.

“Right there.” She pointed to a heavy-looking metal door against a back wall. “It will let you out in the alley.”

“You’re a lifesaver,” May whispered in gratitude.

“The world needs more sisterly solidarity,” Em said, giving the barista a salute. “Thanks for leading the charge.”

The girl smirked. “Good luck out there.”

Out in the alley, May let herself smile.

“That was brilliant, babe,” Em said with a laugh. “Quick thinking.”

“I feel a little guilty about lying to her now,” May admitted.

“Don’t. Women can be creeps too. Now which way should-”

Mid-turn, Em stopped dead and stared open-mouthed at the entrance to the alley. May looked over her shoulder. It was as if the world itself ground to a halt; the Loyal woman was already there.

May grabbed Em’s arm and tried to pull her in the opposite direction, but she stood solid, transfixed.

“Please stop running,” the woman pleaded, hustling up to them while throwing anxious glances behind her. “You’re going to draw attention to us if you keep this up.”

Em was still gaping. “You’re…”

“Marina,” the woman finished, looking flustered. “Connor’s sister.”

And just like that, the world resumed spinning, leaving May feeling nauseous.

“All that freaking out for nothing.” She doubled over, hands on her knees. “There had to be a better way to get our attention without scaring us like that!”

“Consider it a compliment to your evading skills,” Marina said, still fidgeting. She shifted her weight from foot to foot, twitching at every sound. “I had a hard enough time following you as it was. But we’re not out of the woods just yet. Come on, we’ve got to get you two out of the open.”

Silently May and Em followed Marina as she sprinted down the alley and to a curb in front of the building. As soon as she stepped out into the open a white SUV tore out from a row in the sprawling parking lot and lurched to a stop in front of her. They piled in, the vehicle speeding away before the girls even had a chance to sit down.

May wrestled off her pack and pulled it onto her lap as she sat back. Eyes closed, she let out a sigh of relief. When she opened them again, she looked to the driver’s seat, wondering who their getaway driver might be.

But the driver’s seat was empty.

“What’s going on?” May shrieked, fresh terror flashing through her like a flood. “Where’s the driver?”

Em looked up from the seatbelt she was trying to stretch around her, pack and all.

“Holy shit!”

“Please stop yelling,” Marina begged. She was focused on her phone, typing rapidly as the vehicle sped along, driverless.

“This car is driving itself.” May felt like she was dreaming. “You can’t blame me for freaking out!”

At a stop light, Marina crawled into the driver’s seat and buckled herself in. She pressed her thumb into the screen embedded in the dash. The lights illuminating the dashboard features faded from green to blue and suddenly it was clear that Marina was in control.

“You know,” she remarked, meeting May’s wide eyes in the rearview mirror. “Most people are impressed when they see my auto-valet program in action.”

“Yours?” Em leaned forward between the seats. “As in, you invented it?”

“Concept, code, and fabrication,” Marina replied, her eyes firmly trained on the road. “Now sit back, the windows aren’t tinted up here.”

May looked to Em who whispered.

“She always was a smart cookie.”

She gave up on struggling and buckled the seatbelt around herself, pack still on her back.

Marina steered them down a winding series of side streets, through sleepy neighbourhoods and passed bustling mom and pop shops selling produce and home furniture, far away from the chaos of the downtown core. The space between houses grew wider, the homes set farther back from the road, and eventually Marina slowed and turned the vehicle down a tree lined drive. May pressed her face to her window, peering through the trees at the expansive, lush grounds leading up to an impressive home that looked like it could have housed three families comfortably.

“Woah,” she muttered, awestruck. Not even Mr. Anoki – the well-to-do theatre director back home in Omea with all his glamorous galas – had a home like this one; May had never seen anything like it in her life. “Do you live here?”

“I do,” Marina answered. “With my family.”

Em’s gaze was intense as she scanned the front of the house. “Are the others already here?”

In the driver’s seat, Marina shifted, her lips pressed into a tight line and tapped a button on the dash screen. She didn’t say anything, acting as if steering her SUV into the yawning mouth of the garage ahead took every ounce of her concentration.

“Marina,” Em pressed, louder and impatient.

The garage door clunked into reverse as Marina shut off the engine.

“No, they’re not,” she answered without glancing back. Her tone sent a shock of cold racing through May’s veins. “Let’s talk inside.”


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The Wind and the Horizon: Chapter Twenty Four

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Content warning: Strong language


The party reached the town of Luxton by mid-afternoon the following day. As the one least likely to find her face on a wanted poster, May volunteered to source out accommodations, and came back with keys to a rented flat shortly before dinner.

After days in the woods, everyone was more than eager for access to clean running water and soft places to sleep. They took turns showering and crammed the washing machine to bursting with dirty clothes. After making a stealth grocery run, May dropped onto the plush living room couch and immediately declared it her favourite place in the world.

While Connor took to preparing dinner, the others explored the flat, calling dibs on different bedrooms and making themselves more comfortable than they had been in days.

“Hey, Maybe!” Em called from another room. “Guess what I found?”

Before May could venture a guess, Em sauntered into the living room holding a well-loved acoustic guitar. “Do you think you remember everything from the crash course that hippie gave you?”

Of course she remembered; it was a cheeky remark that May had to stop herself from chirping back at lest she accidentally mention her own special Wish ability. In only a couple of hours she had all but mastered the basics of strumming and fingerpicking. Em handed her the instrument and with a little bit of messing around she was able to recall the chords she had learned in that first and only lesson.

She strummed and plucked until the notes for a song Em often sang came back to her. With fingers as nimble as her feet when she danced, May strummed the familiar tune just to make Em smile. In return, Em curled at the floor at May’s feet and sang along in a voice she normally reserved for moments when she thought she was alone and – somewhat surprisingly – for drunken karaoke.

Rue and Priva applauded when they finished.

“You two have great harmony,” Rue said with a wink.

May blushed but Em was quick to accept the compliment. “Yeah, we’re pretty cute.”

From his seat across the room, Jeremy grumbled something beneath his breath. Just as Connor stepped into the room to announce that dinner was ready, Jeremy maneuvered passed him and disappeared into the flat.

Connor looked at Priva, who rolled her eyes.

“Anyway,” he drawled, gesturing toward the kitchen. “Who’s hungry?”

May, Em, and Rue followed him but Priva hung back. The four hadn’t even finished dishing out when the sound of raised, angry voices erupted in another room.

“Oh shit,” Em said, casting a wide-eyed glance at the rest of the group. “Should we do something about that?”

Rue and Connor frowned at each other, but before either could respond, Jeremy stormed through the flat and out the door.

“Should we stop him?” May asked, unnerved.

“Let him go,” Priva growled as she stalked into the kitchen. “Can’t talk any sense into him right now anyway.”

Nobody asked what happened, nor did the press the issue. Together they settled in and ate their dinner in a silence reminiscent of their first day together.

When everyone had finished, Connor and Rue chased the others from the kitchen, swearing they hand clean-up under control. Priva retired to a bedroom, leaving May and Em alone to whisper.

“That was about us, wasn’t it?” May asked, eyeing the door to the hallway down which Priva had cloistered herself.

“Most definitely.”

“Do you think we should go talk to her?”

“And say what?”

May sighed. “I don’t know but personally, I’m kind of sick of everyone being cagey about Jeremy’s attitude problem. Let’s just see what she says. Even if she isn’t honest about anything at least we can say we tried.”

Em thought about it for a moment and nodded. “You know what? Yes, let’s. I want to hear what she has to say about all this.”

They crept down the hallway, pausing to listen at the door before knocking.

“I’m good,” Priva called.

May looked at Em.

Em’s expression was determined.

“Glad to hear it, P,” she replied. “But we’re not. Can we talk about what happened?

There was a groan, the sound of creaking bedsprings. Priva opened the door with a scowl.

“What’s wrong?”

“That’s what we were wondering.” Em raised an eyebrow, a sure sign that she wasn’t about to back down.

“That fight,” May said in a tone far less confrontational than Em’s. “Was it about us?”

Priva licked her lips and glanced between the pair. “Honestly, you don’t need to worry about it. It’s just J being J.”

Em wasn’t having it.

“Cut the bullshit, Priva.”

Emanthy,” May hissed.

“This isn’t the first time he’s gotten pissy at or because of us,” Em barrelled on. “And quite frankly, it’s making an already tense situations worse than it needs to be. What are we doing wrong?”

“You’re not…” Priva looked past them, brow furrowed and gaze unfocused. “It’s complicated.”

“It always is.” Em folded her arms. “But resentful members of this little family we may be, I think we deserve to know if we’re doing something to rock the boat.”

Priva gave a resigned sigh and retreated back into the bedroom, motioning for the girls to follow. She collapsed on the bed, miserable, and May and Em tentatively took posts on either side of her”

“Jeremy and I are dating,” Priva told the ceiling. She didn’t seem ready to look at either of the girls. “Sort of.”

“Sort of?” May questioned, careful to make sure her tone didn’t come across as judgemental.

“If I’m being honest, I think it’s pretty one-sided.” Priva twisted at one of the coils from the half of her hair that hadn’t been carefully braided into tight rows across her scalp. “Honestly, I don’t know why I’m still trying with that boy. He’s never going to love me back.”

“Why do you say that?” Em asked, trying to keep her expression neutral.

“For starters, I’m not fucking stupid.” Priva grumbled. “But also because he’s still in love with someone else.”

There it was; a massive truth dropped so casually that May almost wondered if Priva might have been talking about someone else.

“Who?” Em pushed, waiting for more.

Priva sat up. “This is the worst part – and honestly, just thinking about admitting this makes me feel like a bitch: he’s in love with a dead woman.”

Em nodded at the duvet she had been picking at to avoid looking Priva in the face. “That’s rough, buddy.”

“Ha, that’s putting it lightly.” Priva agreed.

“So, why are you with him then?” May asked. “Has he always been this angry?” And, when Priva raised an eyebrow at her, added, “Or, uh, maybe it’s just me.”

Priva massaged the back of her neck with both hands and sighed.

“No,” she admitted sadly. “He used to laugh. He’s smart and fun and even dangerous in a way that’s so hot. But… thing have changed.”

“Since we showed up.” Em wasn’t asking.

There was a moment when nobody spoke, though the air was heavy with words waiting to be said.

“What does all of this have to do with us, Priva?” May asked gently.

Priva looked at them each in turn, awkward discomfort colouring her expression.

“The woman he loved – the one he still loves – was one of us. She was one of the original members of WIND. Honestly, she was such a badass and I really don’t blame him for being hung up on her. But she was a Starborn, like you.” She gestured to Em, who pursed her lips to keep herself quiet.

“I don’t know why he thought this,” Priva continued, looking flustered. “And believe me, I know how nuts this is going to sound, but… he had it in his mind that you were her. Maybe he thought her death was a cover up or something but he was really convinced that that you were her.”

“But he knows that I’m not, right?” Em insisted. “I mean, I can appreciate his disappointment but why’s he mad at us?”

“Girl, I wish I knew,” Priva said, tossing her hands up in defeat. “I think maybe he built it up so much in his mind that he can’t seem to separate you from her now. And you -” she pointed to May. “- you’re just caught in the middle of all this bullshit and I’m sorry. That’s what we were arguing about; he needs to stop getting pissed off over you two. He needs to stop taking out the fact that he was wrong on you.”

“Maybe he just needs a bit more time?” May ventured.

Priva shook her head. “I don’t know. I think I’ve given him enough time. I feel like such a fool.”

May and Em exchanged sad looks.

“You’re not a fool.” Em put a hand on Priva’s shoulder. “You’re fucking brilliant. We couldn’t have asked for a better navigator. You just need to keep looking forward. Come on, let’s get the maps out and you can show us where we’re headed next.”

“Actually…” Priva glanced out the window with a frown. “I think I should go look for Jeremy. He’s been out there sulking for a while and it’s starting to get dark.”

“Let me go,” May said, earning equally befuddled looks from both Em and Priva. “What? Maybe he just needs to get to know me. I am determined to get this guy to like me. Besides, out of all of us, no one will really be looking for me, remember?”

Priva still seemed reluctant but couldn’t argue with May’s logic. “I guess so…”

Please be careful out there, love,” Em said with a pointed look. “If you’re not back in five minutes, I’m coming to get you.”

“Sure thing, mom,”

“Ew, stop.”

Dusk had settled by the time May got down to the streets. Jeremy wasn’t anywhere in view. Pulling her hat low, she set off, figuring she’d start by circling the block before getting more creative in her search.

Aside from an occasional vehicle passing, the streets were deserted. May shivered involuntarily and tried not to fixate on how alone she was.

“Maybe I should have let Priva go after all,” she mumbled, folding her arms and pinning them tightly against her body. “I have clue where Jeremy might -”

A voice, gruff and indistinct echoed down an alleyway. Another voice followed; it sounded threatening. May was immediately filled with a sense of dread. Self-preservation told her to keep walking but a third, familiar voice stopped her dead.

“I told you, we haven’t found anything yet. Why would I lie about this?”

It was Jeremy.

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out.”

Holding her breath, May crept into the alley. Taking shelter behind a row of garbage bins, she carefully peered out to find Jeremy being interrogated by a pair of men. The bigger of the two had a tight grip around the collar of Jeremy’s shirt and used it to keep him pinned against the wall. The man’s other hand was raised in a first, and based on the bruises blooming across Jeremy’s cheek, it was clear he had already put it to use.

“We did some digging when you didn’t check in. Sounds like you went sniffing around some circus.”

“We were following up on a lead,” Jeremy spat, feisty even in the face of danger. “It was a dead end.”

The men gave one another knowing looks. One nodded, the other struck. His fist hit Jeremy’s face with a loud crack.

“Don’t fucking lie to us, Parker.”

“Why would I lie?” Jeremy shouted.

The man who held him in place rattled him, slamming his small frame back against the wall. “Keep your voice down, man.”

“Why don’t I believe you?” The other man growled.

Jeremy glared at him through swelling lids. “We’re not stupid, you fucking neanderthals; we know what’s at stake here.”

His captor leaned in. “Don’t you forget that.”

“I won’t.”

“Oh, I think we’re going to need a bit more assurance than that,” the other man said, giving another nod to his partner who took the cue and threw Jeremy down at their feet.

Jeremy winced. When his eyes opened again, his new vantage point revealed May, crouched and terrified in her hiding spot. Fear flashed quickly across his face.

The world slowed to a crawl.

May watched one of the men swing his foot, aiming for Jeremy’s stomach.

In the split-second before impact Jeremy held May’s eyes with his and mouthed one word.

Run.


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