With The Wind and the Horizon now complete there are a bunch of things I’m working on behind the scenes (details to come!)
But while I get those fun things ready, I wanted to run a contest to celebrate Starborn fans!
May’s birthday is on September 29th, but I’m going to be giving one of YOU the gifts! Throughout the entire month, subscribers to my Patreon will be able to enter to win one specially curated Starborn Series prize pack full of goodies from and inspired by TSATO and TWATH, including a couple of items I hope you’ll be as excited about as I am!
HOW TO ENTER (UPDATED):
- You must be a subscriber of my Patreon to enter. All tiers are eligible but will grant you different numbers of entries: Free = 1 entry | $1-$4 = 3 entries | $5 – $9 = 4 entries | $10+ = 5 entries
- Comment on this Patreon post with your guesses and/or hopes for what will happen in the third and final Starborn book.
- Earn an additional entry for ever new person you refer to (new referrals must enter the contest and mention you in their answer so I know to give you the bonus entry!)
- You must enter by 11:59 pm EST on Sept 29th to be eligible. One grand prize winner and two runner ups will be chosen.
And, yes: the contest is open internationally!
I’ll share photos of the prize pack once the final items arrive. I can’t wait to read your guesses!
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.”
May sighed, shrinking under the curious gaze of a passing couple who gestured at May’s injured face and whispered to one another.
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.
“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.
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.
[ Next ]
Every time I log in to my blog these days it kind of feels like coming up for air. Between writing, commission work, and a few other projects I’m also preparing to get married in a week and a half! So, to say things have been chaotic would be a bit of an understatement.
Still, before said chaos pulls me back under, I wanted to share a few quick updates!
#1: The WIP Podcast interviewed author Zoraida Cordova!
Zoraida Cordova – author of Labyrinth Lost and the upcoming sequel, Bruja Born – recently joined us on The Work in Progress Podcast as our first ever guest! Not only was it hella exciting to talk to an author whose work I deeply admire, she also had a wealth of information about playing the long game in publishing. Oh, and she’s also super cool. You can listen to the episode on Anchor or subscribe on some of your favourite podcast apps!
#2: I did my first public reading!
A little while ago I was asked if I would like to participate in Vancover’s Dominion Reading Series, hosted by the International Centre of Arts and Technology. The event on May 25th focused on works of YA fantasy, and while The Star and the Ocean isn’t quite young adult, it was still a thrill to get to read a couple excerpts for an audience!
#3: We hit an exciting milestone on Patreon!
Last week we hit the minimum amount of patrons at the “Floofers”, “Boofers”, and “Snoot Boopers” reward levels on my Patreon to unlock monthly commission contests!
Here’s how it will work: every month, subscribers at the above mentioned levels will be entered into a draw for a free commission (note: patrons at the Snoot Booper level get two monthly entries). Winners will get a full body, cell shaded art commission of a character of their choice (or even a portrait of themselves! I don’t care!)
ALSO, we’re only $9 in monthly pledges away from my first goal! Once I hit $50/month I will begin releasing two new early access chapters of The Wind and the Horizon per week until the book is finished. Subscribed patrons are already a full month ahead as it is, so this is a major bonus for TWATH fans!
Chances are this will be my last post aside from chapter updates until after the wedding, so I’ll see you on the other side!
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.
Last 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!
Get early and exclusive access to writing and artwork on my Patreon
Enjoy my tips? Want to help support my work? Donate on Ko-Fi
May’s heart twisted and tore as she watched Em crumble in her arms.
She refused to believe the violent spectre Em had become was anything more than remnants of Audrey breaking through. May knew Em’s love – its strength and its light. Anyone who loved as strongly as Em couldn’t be so cold hearted, May was as sure of it as she was sure she was still breathing.
But none of that could erase what Em had done.
I need you to be stronger than that, May wanted to tell her. I need you to stay who you are.
She released her grip on Em’s shoulders and wrapped her arms around her instead. Just thinking those words made May feel selfish. It was so easy for her to forget how much Em was already suffering just by being here.
“Just… tell me something like this won’t ever happen again,” May pleaded quietly.
Em took a shaky breath in. She opened her mouth to answer, but a different voice spoke instead.
“I take it this is a bad time?”
May gasped and Em sat up with a start. The stranger’s voice was like a flood light snapping on, chasing the moment from the room as though it were darkness.
Standing in the doorway was a man in his early fifties, built like a stone with shoulder-length greying hair and a beard that made him look even older than he likely was. Inscrutable hazel eyes watched them from beneath thick eyebrows.
“Shit, Grant.” Em wiped at her eyes. “I didn’t hear you coming.”
“I figured,” the man called Grant gunted in reply. He gave a pointed look to May. “How’re you feeling? You’ve been out for a while.”
“I’ve been better,” May admitted.
The man nodded and turned, motioning for the girls to follow.
“Do you think you can walk?” Em asked quietly, not quite meeting May’s eyes.
She helped May to her feet and held her hand tightly through those first tentative steps. The ache in May’s legs gave way to tingling that faded by the time they made it out of the office. Blinking, May’s eyes swept over a surprisingly bright warehouse below the grated walkway on which they stood. Warm afternoon sunlight pressed in through greasy windows that lined the top half of the walls, reflecting a lazy cloud of dust motes. The ground floor was busy; two neat rows of vehicles lined either wall and pairs of legs protruded from beneath their hoods and chassis.
“A garage?” May asked. The sounds and smells made sense now, but she was still surprised. “What kind of safehouse is this?”
“The safest kind,” answered Grant.
He led them into a room at the end of the metal walkway. The room, perhaps originally intended to be a breakroom, half-served its original purpose while doubling as a command center of sorts. A long card table filled the middle of the room, surrounded by mismatched chairs and littered with sheafs of paper, empty beer bottles, and stained coffee mugs. Blinking computer servers and monitors lined the far wall in a set-up not unlike Marina’s workshop.
“What is this place?” May marvelled quietly. The equipment seemed far more advanced than a garage required.
May spun to find Jun in an opposite corner, hunched over his own workstation. He jumped to his feet and stood so his body shielded his monitor from view. “What are you doing in here?”
“Relax, Jun,” Grant grumbled from the other side of the room. He busied himself by pouring a deep amber colored brew from a mason jar into a mug.
“I’m workin’ on something here.” Jun sounded scandalized. “What if they see?”
The man turned to Jun, a single eyebrow raised. Frowning, Jun sank back into his chair without another word.
“I already told you – these two are friends of the kid.” Grant screwed the cap back on the jar and slid it onto a shelf. He carried the mug back to May and held it out to her. “Drink this. Throw it back. If you try to sip it you’ll never finish it. It’ll make you feel better.”
May had her doubts but took the mug anyway. With a curious look at Em, who only offered a shrug, May did as she was told and tossed the drink back in one searing swallow. It lit a fire in her belly that burned in a flash and then sizzled out, filling the rest of her body with a comfortable fuzziness. She shook her head and coughed.
“There’s no medicine on earth that cures quite like a strong shot of hooch,” Grant said, taking back May’s mug as she hacked out another couple of ragged coughs. “Better?”
Coughing aside, when May stopped to consider herself she was surprised to find she did feel better. Grant took the surprised look on her face for confirmation and nodded, satisfied.
“May, is it?” he asked. Clearly Em had already filled him in on a few details.
“Yeah,” May replied, shaking his hand. “Thanks for taking us in.”
“Yo, Parker!” a voice shouted from the floor below. “Whaddaya think of this?”
Grant turned to Jun. “Go tell them I’m gonna need a minute.”
Jun didn’t argue, shuffling from the room and closing the door behind him.
“Who’s Parker?” May turned the name over in her mind, wondering why it sounded familiar.
“Me.” Grant gestured at himself. “Last name.”
A memory clicked into place sending a wave of realization washing over May.
“Grant Parker?” she asked. “Are you related to Jeremy?” Her eyes lingered on his greying hair, searching for a hint of Jeremy’s signature fiery red.
His strong arms were crossed, but May caught the slightest hint of a smile tug at the corner of Grant’s mouth.
“No, but he and I go way back.”
As he turned and walked away, May shot Em a quizzical look.
“It’s a long story,” Em whispered.
“Ladies, come over here a minute,” Grant called over from the command-center wall. “There’s something I need to show you.”
Everything about his words sounded like bad news. May followed Em to join him, both wary and weary at the thought of how things could possibly get worse than they already were.
He stood in front of a monitor featuring the image of a man’s serious face, frozen mid-sentence. The name Wyndam Aviar hovered at the bottom of the screen and below that, the word aldermember. Em bristled when she saw him, but said nothing. Grant tapped a few keys and the image – a paused video – jumped back and played from the beginning. Shaky cellphone footage showed dark vans parked along a hedged street and a swarm of people in uniforms lining the end of a private driveway. Between their shoulders, May could make out the unmistakable rosy shade of her own hair. She felt the blood drain from her face as the person shooting the video made a foolhardy dash across the street and continued recording from behind one of the vans.
Explosions of light and energy filled the screen and distorted the feeds. May relived the horror of Em being blasted back by the Loyals’ arm cannon and her miraculous recovery. The cameraperson swore as Loyal agents were knocked back by another one of Em’s assaults and then the picture zoomed in. The screen was filled with Em’s dark and dangerous face. The view pulled back, shaking as the person directing it tried to capture exactly what they were seeing: a young man, jerked high into the air.
Screaming and pleading.
Em, unflinching as she snapped her arm downward.
The video cut off just before the young Loyal agent hit the ground.
Beside her, May felt Em tremble.
The video moved on to the talking head of Wyndam Aviar as he addressed the viewing audience.
“It doesn’t matter if it is by magical or mythological might: any supernatural being who uses their abilities to harm the defenseless is a criminal. Whomever this woman is, she is dangerous and must be apprehended. Please use extreme caution when-”
Grant paused the video, frozen on the aldermember’s face like when they first found it.
Em clasped a hand over her mouth, breathing fast and hard.
May’s mind raced through all the things this video meant for them.
Grant turned and surveyed them both, his expression unreadable.
“Well, ladies.” His gruff voice broke the heavy silence.
“Looks to me like you’re in a whole lot of trouble.”
As some of you already know, I lost my job at the end of February.
While the news was completely unexpected, I decided to treat this major upheaval as a blessing in disguise.
Anyone who writes and creates while working full-time can tell you how challenging it is. Finding the time to dedicate to your craft while also spending most of the day working is hard enough; Couple that with trying to spend time with loved ones and maybe even take care of yourself, and you understand what it means to say “there aren’t enough hours in the day”.
All I’ve ever wanted is for my creative projects to be how I make my living.
So, rather than rushing back into the job market, I’ve decided to the artist life an honest shot. Over the past month I’ve spent hours a day writing; Treating it like the priority I want to be in my life. I’ve also been hustling on several side projects – you know, the ones that pay the bills, ha ha!
I’m really, really excited to be giving writing and art a real chance to be my new full-time job.
But to make this work, I need those side hustles! So, if you’re looking forward to all the extra content I now I have time to pump out and/or you just want to help make the dream happen, here’s how you can support my work!
Subscribe on Patreon
If you’re trying to decide on how best to support my work, Patreon gives you the best bang for your buck! For as little as $1 a month (yes, seriously!) you get new early access content every single week. You’ll also get lots of exclusive content like stories and artwork, plus steep commission discounts and entry to monthly contests!
Donate on Ko-Fi
Not everyone can make regular financial commitments to their favourite creators, and I get that. Whether you’d like to tip me for the content I share, or you just want to make a single donation to help me along, the Ko-Fi platform is the easiest way to do it!
My art commissions are now open, with no slot caps! I’m open for character and cover illustrations, social media avatars, and even merch designs!
Shop the Starborn Store
I’ve recently added a bunch of new designs to the Starborn Store, with more on the way! If you’re a fan of the Starborn universe (The Star and the Ocean, The Wind and the Horizon), this is the only place to get your hands on official merch! Have requests of a design you’d like to see? Hit me up and I’ll do my best to make it happen!
In my previous life, I was a communications professional. I’m university educated (University of Toronto 0T8) and have completed post-graduate studies in public relations, with a decade’s worth of experience under my belt. I even taught college-level social media courses for four and a half years!
Add this to my experience in the world of books and fiction, and I your one-stop shop for all kinds of projects and initiatives, including:
- Beta reading
- Sensitivity reading (bisexuality, chronic depression, generalized anxiety disorder, anorexia)
- Copywriting (blog posts, articles, newsletters, advertising copy, etc.)
- Press release writing
- Social media consultation
TELL YOUR FRIENDS!
Can’t support me yourself? That’s okay! There might be people in your network who could benefit from my services and/or who might like to read the things I write!
I’ve just added a brand new collection to my merch shop called Starborn Style. These designs are perfect for anyone who wants to rep their Starborn love but don’t want to rock one of my illustrations out in the wild (don’t worry, I’m not offended!)
Sign-up for Redbubble’s newsletter for exclusive promo codes (there are lots of opportunities to get in on a good deal!) or keep an eye on my Twitter feed where I also share the codes!
Here’s a sample of what’s in store (ha, get it?)
Have inspo for designs you’d like to see added to the store? Just let me know! I’ll be adding more designs over time.
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.
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.
“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.”
[ Next Chapter ]
May’s heart threatened to hammer its way out of her chest.
In the first light of morning, it was impossible to tell who was standing there, blocking the shelter’s exit.
“Can we help you?” Em demanded but did not rise.
Once May’s eyes adjusted, she saw the intruder was a boy, only fourteen or fifteen-years old. He didn’t speak. He didn’t smile. He simply looked between the two women huddled in the corner and, without acknowledging it, dropped a tightly folded piece of paper on the ground and left. The sound of a bike being righted from the ground and peddling off was the last they heard from him.
“Who was that?” May asked, hushed but panicked.
“I have no idea.” Em’s head was cocked, listening.
May crept forward, stiff body aching in protest, and reached for what the boy had dropped.
“No,” Em pulled her back. “Leave it. Just wait.”
Too nervous to argue, May did as she was told. In motionless silence, they waited. They waited for what felt to May like forever.
Em nodded. “Okay, I think we’re good.”
This time when May reached for the paper, Em didn’t stop her. Instead, she peered over the shelter’s half-wall, scanning the picnic area around them. A couple runners plodded along a trail skirting the grove. Otherwise they were alone.
Licking her dry lips, May shot Em an anxious look and unfolded the paper.
We’ll meet you there.
“That’s Priva’s handwriting.” Em crouched back down beside May. She studied the note with a frown. “Meet us where?”
May searched her memory; Priva had told her where they were going, that day in the woods when she opened up about her family’s history of exploration. The memory was fuzzy now.
“Priva told me once,” she groaned, closing her eyes and trying to remember where Priva had pointed on the map. “We were going to get there by train. Ugh, it was a city, had a short name… I think it started with a y?”
Em looked surprised but didn’t say anything.
“What’s wrong?” May asked, fresh panic making her heartbeat quicken. “What’s in York?”
“Connor’s sister.” Em answered. “Or at least, that’s where she used to live.”
It was May’s turn to be surprised; this was the first she’d heard of Connor having a sibling.
Em recommended they get a move on before it got much later. It was still early enough that the streets were quiet, but they kept to sleepy side streets and alleys until they eventually found the train station. When they arrived, May donned both Em’s wig and hat before heading into the station alone.
“You just missed the morning train, sweetheart,” the smiling, grey-haired woman at the wicket told her. “But there’s one heading that way around 5:30 if you’re willing to wait.”
May glanced around the station. Morning commuters and travellers milled about, but she didn’t spot any familiar faces – friendly or otherwise. “I’ll take two tickets, please.”
A few minutes later, May sat alone at the cafe across the street. She was too anxious to eat but forced herself anyway. Em, she knew, was perched on the roof of the building, keeping an eye out from a safe distance.
One day I’m going to look back on all of this and think it was really exciting, she thought. She figured if she told herself that enough, she might start to believe it.
When she was sure no one was watching, May tucked the other half of her breakfast sandwich into her hoodie pocket for Em, slinked into the washroom, and shoved open the window.
“Good thing you’re so tiny. That window isn’t very big.”
May gasped. “Emmy! Don’t do that. I’m too freaked out for surprises right now.”
Em hovered just outside the window, which mercifully faced the alley behind the building. She kept her eyes trained on the sidewalk.
“Yell at me later. We’ve gotta hustle.”
She helped May shimmy out the window and carried her up to the roof where she had set up a spot near the edge. From there they could keep an eye on the station. The building was five storeys – the tallest on the street. May collapsed onto the little nest-like space Em set up, feeling safe for the first time since she went looking for Jeremy the day before.
“The next train to York doesn’t leave until 5:30,” she said to Em, who settled down beside her. “I brought you breakfast.”
Em took the sandwich and smiled softly. “You’re amazing. You know that right?”
“Because I brought you food?” May gave her a teasing look. “I didn’t realize the bar was set so low.”
“First of all,” Em chuckled, laying down beside her. “Don’t underestimate the importance of food. Second, that’s not what I meant. I’m proud of you and how you’re handling all of this.”
May sighed and covered her eyes with her forearm. “If by ‘how I’m handling this’ you mean ‘not well at all’ then you would be right.”
She felt Em’s lips press into hers in a loving kiss. “You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for, babe.”
Relenting, May let herself smile. “Thanks, Emmy. You’re pretty amazing too.”
“How about you take a nap?” Em offered. “We’ve got nothing but time. I’ll take the first watch.”
This time, May kissed her. “Have I ever told you how much I love you?”
Em grinned. “Once or twice.”
May wriggled into the sleeping bag Em pulled from her pack and fell asleep to the sound of her love unwrapping her breakfast.
They were unmoored, separated from the others and uncertain of where the Loyals might be lurking next. But they were together.
This time when May slept, it was deep and it was dreamless.
By the time their train was ready to board, May was convinced there was nothing worse than waiting.
Save for the blissful hours she spent sleeping, every moment left her plagued with worry.
Where were the others? Were they safe? How long before they found each other again?
Though Em never would have admitted it, May knew she was worried too. She could see it in the way Em dipped her head forward to hide behind the hair of her wig. May let her board the train first while she hung back, scanning the platform for suspicious faces and doing what she could to avoid drawing the attention of anyone who might have been searching for a couple of young women travelling together.
She found Em again a few minutes later, crouched low in her seat.
Em twitched, startled. “Sorry. Yeah, I’m fine. Just trying to keep my head down.”
May slid into her seat and adjusted her cap to cover her surreptitious glance around the train car.
“I think we’re all clear,” she said, forcing a smile for Em’s sake. “Now we just need to figure out what to do once we get there.”
“I don’t suppose P had a chance to choose an assembly point in York, did she?”
May shook her head. “I’m not sure she thought that far ahead.”
“I figured as much.” Em gave May’s hand a firm squeeze. “Don’t worry, babe. We’ll figure it out.”
The pair dozed in and out for most of the trip to York. It wasn’t until the train was pulling into the station that they made the hushed decision to find a motel to hole up in until they figured out what to do next.
“Shouldn’t we go find Connor’s sister?” May asked, heaving her pack onto her shoulders. Its weight was beginning to wear on her.
“How would we explain to the others how we knew where to go?” Em replied over her shoulder.
“We could always lie and say that one of them told us.”
“Are you suggesting we gaslight them? Lie until they believe our bullshit?”
May shrugged. “Aren’t we already kind of doing that?”
Down on the platform, Em found an information stand and pulled various brochures. She didn’t remember York well enough to know where to search for a place to stay. While she researched, May kept a lookout.
She scanned the crowds of bustling travellers from beneath the brim of her hat. Between the weary faces and scurrying bodies, May spotted a happy reunion between a pair of lovers. The laughter and smiles struck a chord of envy in her; what she wouldn’t give for a carefree welcome like that right now.
As she stared off, imagining a different timeline in which she and Em hadn’t made this trip alone – one in which WIND was with them and everything was going according to plan – May’s eyes focused in on a different face in the crowd. A face that, unlike the other bodies on the platform, stood still.
The face of a woman who staring right at her.
Unnerved by the stranger’s intense gaze, May shivered.
“Find anything yet?” She glanced at Em, who was absorbed in a brochure for a quaint bed and breakfast. When May looked back, the woman had moved on.
“I think so,” Em muttered, flipping the paper over to read the inn’s address.
“Let’s go find a cab then.”
They wove between the other travellers, pressing through the crowd in search of the station exit. May glanced around and her heart stopped; the woman was trailing just behind them.
“Em,” she hissed, sounding far more calm than she felt. “We need to run.
We’re being followed.”
[ Next ]