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!
It took longer for complete darkness to fall at this latitude, but the Emandi didn’t mind. A few extra hours meant very little to a creature who had already seen many millenia pass.
The moon was dark and the stars glittered overhead like ocean spray frozen in time. In the distance a hazy green glow reached faintly across the sky. It was a perfect night to watch the aurora, and the show was just getting started.
The Emandi had made their way high into the upper alpine, where the air was thin and the lights would feel close enough to touch. They coiled their sleek feline-esque body into an orb atop a weather-worn boulder and blinked slowly skyward with their pale, icy eyes. The aurora grew, colors of purple and red joining the streaking green and dancing across the endless expanse of sky to a muted song. The intensity of the colors reflected on the Emandi’s short silver fur, making the creature smile.
Being one of the oldest creatures in existence – an original child of the love between the land and the sun – the Emandi had borne witness to all of the earth’s wonders. They appreciated every single one of them, but had a special place in their heart for the aurora. For hours the Emandi sat in the frigid mountain air, the plush gossamer mane that floated atop their shoulders and down their chest provided a comfortable shield against the elements. It was a peaceful place to be for anyone capable of surviving in such unforgiving terrain.
A flash cut across the sky, bright enough to briefly outshine the aurora and catch the Emandi’s attention. Their eyes followed the light as it careened downward into the dark forest at the base of the mountain, close to where the Emandi made their home.
“How curious,” they purred and set off to investigate.
The Emandi took their time coming down the mountain. They dawdled through the forest, pausing to lap from a glacial stream and watch nocturnal creatures scurry hither and fro as the underbrush grew denser in the lower elevation. A brilliant white light filtered through the trees, growing brighter as the Emandi closed in.
At last, the creature stepped into a small clearing, lit as though it were midday. Standing at its center was a tall, glowing figure draped in golden robes with a sour look puckering their otherwise beautiful face.
“Why, Sita,” the Emandi hummed pleasantly, easing back onto a pair of powerful hind legs. They rolled their shoulders back and drew themself into a human-like posture. “What a surprise.”
“I do wish you wouldn’t call me that,” the Star replied with a scowl. Owing to their musical language, Stars had names that were impossible for any earthly creature to pronounce – save for perhaps the birds. That the Emandi had decided to name them as they saw fit remained a sore point for many of them.
“Give me a name I can pronounce and I will cease at once. Now, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”
The Star regarded the Emandi critically before answering.
“I’m looking for the one you earth creatures call Welkin.”
“Well, that’s peculiar. Is it not unusual for your kind to lose track of one of your own?”
“Not when they’re in exile,” Sita admitted darkly.
The only sign that this news surprised the Emandi was a sharp flick of their thick tail. “Exile, you say?”
The Star didn’t respond.
Making a thoughtful noise, the Emandi settled back on their haunches. “If Welkin is in exile, I can’t imagine it matters where they are, so long as they’re not up there.” They gestured skyward with an articulated finger from one of their forepaws.
“In this case it does,” Sita replied. “Welkin’s exile comes with certain… terms. We are concerned they may be breaking them.”
“Fascinating.” The Emandi’s tail flicked again. “This punishment sounds poorly thought out to me. Rushed it, did we?”
Sita glowered. “Have you seen them or not?”
“I haven’t seen Welkin in, oh, three years? Perhaps four. Is that helpful?”
“You’ve had no contact more recent than that?” the Star asked, to which the Emandi shook their sizeable head. “Would you even tell me if you had?”
“I have no vested interested in being dishonest with you, Sita.”
With their lovely lips pressed into a tight line, Sita deliberated privately before giving a curt nod. “Very well. Should your paths cross, we would appreciate it if you didn’t mention this conversation.”
Flick, flick went the Emandi’s tail.
“I’ll take your request into consideration.”
By the sneer on their face, it was clear that Sita wasn’t happy with that response, but there wasn’t much to be done about it. The Star’s light intensified to a blinding brightness, and the Emandi closed their eyes until it dissipated with a fading whistle.
The forest was filled with darkness once more. Glancing up between the shadowy trees, the Emandi could see a patch of sky; in it the aurora continued to dance.
“Oh, Welkin. Dear friend,” the Emandi murmured to themself.
“What kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into this time?”
— End of Book 2 —
In May’s dream, the world was a black, inky void.
At first she thought she was the only person in existence, wandering silently through nothingness; lost and alone.
And then she tripped.
She fell face-forward, sprawling without injury onto the dark. When she hoisted herself up onto her elbows, she glanced back at what she tripped over and let out a choked wail.
Floating in the emptiness, eyes closed and covered in blood, was Em. Her face was mottled with the same bruises and gashes that May had suffered at the hands of Melanie, and a red, seeping stain blossomed across her shirt from the center of her chest.
May scrambled to Em’s side in a panic.
“They found you,” she sobbed, her trembling hands searching Em’s neck for a pulse. “No, no, no, they got to you too.”
Fat hot tears fell from May’s eyes, splashing down onto Em’s icy skin and diluting the smears of fresh blood like watercolor paint.
“Wake up, Em,” she sobbed, holding her face between her palms. “Please, open your eyes.”
She shook Em’s shoulders with a firm grasp, her frantic pleas echoing through the dark and barren world that surrounded them. Something in May’s mind convinced her that she was too late, and she collapsed over Em’s body in a hysterical heap.
A soft touch on the top of her head startled her. May sat up with a gasp and found Em, now inexplicably void of injury, smiling down at her.
“I knew you could do it,” the Star whispered, looking at her with proud and loving diamond eyes.
May shouted with joy, flinging her arms around Em and holding her tight. She looked at her again, breathless with relief. Em pulled May up until they were face to face and pressed a chaste kiss to her lips. It was a gesture that filled May with happiness and longing, but for some reason her body seemed incapable of reciprocating.
Em tried again with another gentle kiss and, again, May’s body was sluggish to respond. It was confusing and frustrating in the way dreams are when things don’t work the way they’re supposed to. Em pressed harder. Slowly, with her mind growing fuzzy around the edges, May felt her body begin to respond.
Em’s kiss tasted like wine.
“Oh, May,” dream Em whispered in a voice that jostled May’s mind.
It wasn’t Em’s voice.
It was Mila’s.
May’s eyes shot open to find herself surrounded by a different kind of darkness. A warm body writhed against her own beneath the covers, another kiss smothering her lips. Her sleep-addled brain tripped over itself at the sensation of a hand sliding up her shirt.
“I’ve missed you so much,” Mila’s voice murmured, her lips moving against May’s cheek.
“Mila,” May gasped. “Stop it. What are you doing?” She squirmed, trying to hoist Mila off and wriggle free, but her legs were tangled in the quilt and a sharp stinging from the scar on her chest nearly took her breath away.
“Oh, come on,” Mila crooned, shifting so that she straddled May’s hips and intertwining their fingers like tight laces. “You can’t tell me you don’t still think about us.”
“Get off of me!”
Mila attempted to kiss her again, getting only May’s cheek as she turned her face away.
“We’re both alone! This is our chance.”
May was now completely awake, panic pulsing through her. Her mind screamed like a siren, her body reacting to being pinned yet again. But this time she was stronger – not to mention sober – and she had the upper hand. Bucking her hips, May ignored the searing pain in her chest and twisted. With Mila’s center of gravity thrown, all it took was a shove to send her sprawling onto the other side of the small pull-out mattress. Hissing through the pain, May scrambled to her feet and gently massaged her scar.
“Wait,” Mila cried, reaching out for her. “Please, wait.”
“Mila, that’s enough,” May shouted. “You need to stop.”
As May fumbled to get away from the bed – the living room was so cramped with the couch mattress pulled out – Mila began to cry.
“I’m so sorry,” she howled. “I just thought-”
“No,” May snapped, cutting her excuse off at the bud. “We’re over, Mila. We had a chance and you threw it away a long time ago. End of story.”
“I was scared.”
May scoffed. “No, you were selfish. Clearly you still are because you’re married. And even if you weren’t, I’m in love with someone else – someone who actually loves me back.”
She stood at the foot of the pull-out and watched Mila sob. Even in tears Mila was beautiful, her soft cheeks flushed and dark, seductive eyes glistening. But now when May looked at her all she saw was a spoiled and pitiful creature.
“I don’t love him,” Mila moaned, punctuating her confession with a sad hiccup. As if she thought her words would make any sort of difference to May, she reached out a trembling hand. “I was alone and scared and I didn’t know what else to do.”
A part of May wanted to be surprised by Mila’s admission and even her audacity to use it to try and lure her back in. But May was no longer blinded by the charms of first love. With a shake of her head she turned and marched toward the door.
“I’m sorry you’re unhappy, Mila. But that’s not my problem. Not anymore.” May stooped and hauled her pack onto her shoulder with a wince. “It’s time for you to learn how to clean up your own damn messes.” She yanked the door open, a cool blast of night air washing over her like a refreshing tide.
Sparing one last glance back, May narrowed her eyes. “And stop calling me Maybe – you don’t get to do that anymore.”
It was so early – too early to be at the shipyards already – but May had nowhere else to go. Bundled tightly beneath Em’s hoody, May slumped down at the edge of a dock and let her legs dangle over. She was exhausted and angry, so much so that she couldn’t bring herself to care about being out in the open anymore. The dull throbbing in her chest had ebbed, and thankfully a quick glance down the front of her shirt confirmed that she hadn’t reopened her wound. Huffing, May arranged her pack behind her, leaning back on it to watch the sunrise and listen to the ocean roll around her.
As the night sky faded into dreamy shades of violet and gold, the shrieking call of gulls interrupted the serenity of the morning. May tipped her head back and watched them circle and dive, some hopping cautiously up the dock behind her or watching her with unblinking curiosity from the lamp posts above.
Then, amid the flurry of white and grey feathers, a dark mass caught May’s attention. She sat up and twisted to get a better look at the creature as it flapped its massive black wings, landing only a dozen paces down the dock. It was a bird, but not a gull. Every inch of its huge body – it easily dwarfed the gulls – was sleek black. Thoughtful eyes peered back at May. From its large, curved beak it let out a raspy caw that sounded eerily out of place.
And it was. May knew this was no island bird. She had seen the species before, high in the mountainous terrain of Tenna. Dom had told her all about them when she first spotted a pair circling in the sky; she had been struck by their enormous size and freakishly knowing gaze.
“A raven,” she whispered, watching the displaced bird with the same sense of awe. “What are you doing all the way out here?”
The raven cawed again and released what looked to be a crumpled piece of paper from its taloned foot. With a few rapid pecks, it opened the paper and tilted its head left and then right, giving each eye a chance to inspect whatever was on it. Then the raven looked back at May.
Another caw. This time the raven snatched the paper up in its beak and fluttered over to where May sat with flabbergasted stillness. Up close, the bird was even bigger than she had imagined and she involuntarily shrunk away when it got close.
Unperturbed, the raven tossed the paper down and scooted it toward May with its beak. It watched her expectantly and, when she didn’t move, it cawed again, making her jump.
“Am I supposed to take that?”
Carefully she reached out, but the raven was already distracted with pruning itself. The paper was grubby and of a thicker stock that she anticipated. Turning it to face the lamplight, May gasped, nearly dropping it when she saw her own face smiling back at her.
It was a photo Em had taken of her back when they were on the run. In it, May sat on a blanket, smiling over her shoulder at Em as they perched on a hilltop watching the sunrise. It had been one of the first photos they sent to Dom to let him and the rest of the search and rescue team know they were safe.
“How did you get this?” May marvelled, turning the photo over in her hands. That’s when she spotted the writing. It was a note, short and unquestionably written in Dom’s child-like scrawl.
Something huge has happened.
Can’t say much in case Fargus is intercepted.
May raised an eyebrow at the bird. “Are you Fargus?”
Her question elicited a caw and a couple quick dips of the raven’s head that uncannily mimicked a nod.
“Did Dom send you?”
Another caw and a nod. May remembered Dom telling her that ravens were freakishly smart and, as a forest spirit, it made sense that he’d be able to convince one to send a message on his behalf. She reread the note and considered it carefully. There was always a chance that it was a trap, but what if it wasn’t? After all, if there was a way to ensure a message was nearly impossible to trace, May figured sending it by raven was probably a good way to do it.
“How do I know I can trust you?” she asked, feeling a little foolish as she did so. Fargus replied with a full body shake, dark feathers fluffing momentarily before gently settling back into place.
“Are Dom and the others safe at least?”
Would it be crazy of her to trust a bird?
Making a detour to Tenna threw off her plan – she had intended to head straight back to the Rookery in hopes that the Murder’s criminal ties could help her track down her birth parents. Her eyes traced the words ‘something huge has happened’ again and her heart picked up its pace. What could that mean?
Biting her lip, May gazed out across the ocean. Her eyes fixated on the horizon. Going to Tenna meant delaying the only thing she wanted – putting an end to the Loyals once and for all so that she and Em could finally be together again. But deep down May knew she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she ignored Dom’s request and something happened to him or the others.
“Okay, Fargus,” she said, turning back to the patiently waiting raven. “Tell Dominic I’m on my way.”
With a few excited caws, Fargus took to the air and flew eastward in the direction of the mainland. May pulled herself to her feet and watched the bird’s dark silhouette disappear. Behind her a ship’s horn sounded.
Once more, May looked across the sea.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, her fingers tracing the groove of her absent ring. She fantasized that wherever Em was, she was looking down at it and thinking of May in that same moment. “It might take a little longer to finish this than I originally planned.”
The sun broke the horizon, its first rays reaching across space and time to warm May’s face with a gentle caress.
“First, Dom, then the wishing star.”
She smiled, bright and wide.
“And then, us.”
[ Next ]
It took a bit of time for the tension between May and Mila to dissipate.
May didn’t argue this time when Mila insisted she make herself comfortable while she cleaned up from dinner. From her place on the living room couch, May took deep, calming breaths until her fiery anger subsided into a mild smoulder. It was just one night, she reasoned. By morning she’d be gone and she would never have to see Mila again.
Eventually Mila crept into the living room, a glass of fresh-pressed mango juice in one hand and a full glass of wine in the other. She offered the juice to May with a sheepish smile and eased down onto the opposite end of the couch.
“So,” Mila ventured. “How’s the family? What have I missed while I’ve been hiding out like the shitty person that I am.”
May rolled her eyes. Mila’s self-deprecation wasn’t going to get her very far with her.
“Everyone’s fine. Omi started school and Ora’s pregnant again.”
“Really?” This news brightened Mila’s mood right away. “She must be so excited! When is she due?”
The fact that Mila had been Ora’s friend before she and May fell into one another made her safe mutual ground. May shared her suspicion that baby number two would be a girl, which made Mila coo in hopeful agreement. The conversation shifted to Omi – about how much he had grown and about what an adventurous and jubilant boy he had become – and soon May felt herself relax. That child would forever be her weakness.
Before long, the conversation was flowing naturally. They kept their focus on the past, digging up old memories from their days as high schoolers and dancers, skirting artfully around any subject matter that might disrupt their fragile truce.
“Listen,” Mila said, waving her near-empty glass between them. “Before I have anymore to drink how about I help you with your hair?”
May blinked at her. “What about my hair?”
“You have this one shaved line on the side,” Mila pointed to May’s scalp. “I’m guessing you had stitches from your accident?”
Trailing her fingertips across the soft fuzz around the fresh scar on her head, May considered what she must look like. After the attack, vanity had been the furthest thing from her mind. Only now that she was on the mend did she realize how strange she probably looked. She nodded slightly.
“Nurses never seem too concerned about the fact that you have to live with that hair after they shave it, do they?” Mila spoke from experience. May could still vividly remember the summer Mila split her head open by falling off the handlebars of May’s bike. They had never done that again.
“I don’t think there’s much you can do about it.”
“Sure there is,” Mila chirped, sitting up straight. “I could even it out. It would be drastic but really cool. A badass new look for the badass new you!”
May wasn’t quite convinced. Cutting all her hair short all those years ago had been dramatic enough, and even that had been the result of a full-blown panic attack.
“Come on,” Mila urged as she got to her feet. “It’ll be a big change but it won’t be worse than what you’ve got now, right? Besides, hair grows out. You’ll be fine.”
Still not completely sold, May followed Mila to the ensuite bathroom and sat timidly on the chair Mila dragged over from her vanity. Gently, Mila combed her fingers through May’s already voluminous hair and fanned it out across her shoulders.
“What I’m thinking is we shave this entire side and make it even,” Mila explained, outlining the scarred side of May’s head from her part to her ear and back. May’s eyes bulged.
“You’re kidding me.”
“I’m not! The style has an edgy glamor to it. It’s actually pretty cute.”
“Why don’t I just change what side I part my hair on instead?”
Mila let out a huff and rearranged May’s hair to that the bulk of it fell over the already buzzed path. “I dunno. I can still kind of see it, but it’s your call.”
May sighed. Who was she trying to impress these days, anyway?
“Fine, let’s do it.”
Using her husband’s electric razor, Mila set to work, carefully gliding the buzzing instrument along May’s scalp. All the while May kept her eyes clamped shut for fear that watching would make her lose her nerve when it was already too late to stop.
“And done!” Mila said, her voice loud with excitement. “What do you think?”
Slowly, May opened her eyes. Mila hadn’t been wrong, it was edgy – perhaps, May worried, too edgy for someone like her to pull off. But as she turned her head this way and that, she was surprised to find that it suited her.
“I really do look like a badass!” she marvelled, tracing her scar with her finger.
“Right?” Mila laughed. “Okay, let me try something else.”
This time May kept her eyes open, watching Mila’s hands work in the mirror as she wove the hair on the opposite side of her head into a tight braid that lead from her temple to the back of her head.
“So, what’s on the mainland?” Mila asked as she focused on her work.
It was a big question, and one May wasn’t completely sure how to answer. She wasn’t about to tell Mila everything about the Stars and WIND and the Loyals, so she settled for a half-truth instead.
“There’s a girl.”
Mila paused for a split-second – nearly imperceptible had May not felt the way her fingers stopped their patterned rhythm. “Oh?”
“She had to deal with some family issues.” It wasn’t so far from the truth, particularly when one considered that WIND had once been something of a surrogate family to Audrey. “I’m going to meet back up with her.”
“Why didn’t you go with her? Not quite at that point of the relationship yet?”
The question struck a nerve. “It was just some heavy stuff and she didn’t want me to have to deal with it too. So I used this time to come back and see my own family.”
“They must have been happy about that,” Mila said, her eyes flicking quickly to May’s in the mirror and then back again. “Your family, I mean. I’m surprised they let you leave the island in the first place. Do they know about this girl?”
“Wow,” Mila huffed an incredulous laugh. “How things have changed.”
Once finished with the braid, Mila secured the whole look into a ponytail, stood upright and smiled at May in the mirror.
“See? Super cute.”
May watched her cheeks grow rosy in her reflection. “Thanks. I like it a lot more than I thought I would.”
As she crouched to help clean up the fallen mounds of hair, May caught Mila suppressing a yawn out of the corner of her eye.
“I saw that.” She smirked.
“I’m fine,” Mila protested, holding up a small trash can for May to toss the mess into with one hand while waving the other dismissively. “It’s the wine.”
“It’s late, that’s what it is. I should probably get to bed. Tomorrow morning is going to come fast enough as it is.”
“Are you sure?” Mila didn’t even try to hide the disappointment from her expression.
May nodded. “I’m also sure that you should take the bed and I’ll sleep on the couch. I’d probably just end up waking you when I sneak by you in the morning anyway. Where can I find a blanket?”
It seemed Mila knew better than to argue – or perhaps she was realizing just how tired she really was. With another yawn, she pulled a spare quilt and pillow from a closet in the hallway and handed them to May with a small smile.
“Thanks for staying. I know I’m not your favorite person anymore but it really has been great to see you again. I’ve…” she paused, glancing away abashedly. “I’ve missed you, Maybe.”
Clutching the armful of blanket and pillow tightly to her body, May shifted and offered Mila a smile of her own. “I appreciate you giving me a place to crash. And the haircut. Goodnight, Mila.”
May hustled back into the living room and waited for the sound of the bedroom door clicking shut before exhaling. As she made her bed, she couldn’t help but marvel over the person she had become. How long had she spent heartbroken and pining over Mila? Once upon a time that girl had meant everything to her, so much so that she would have done anything for her – and did. For years, despite the hurt and anger, she had doubted her resolve; believing full heartedly that, if given another chance, she would have taken Mila back in an instant. She had loved her – needed her – that much.
Or perhaps, more accurately, she had simply loved herself that little.
As she flopped onto the lumpy pull-out mattress and laid her head on the flat guest pillow, May couldn’t avoid the grim thought that both of the women she had ever dared to love had abandoned her.
But she was wiser now, and she loved herself just enough to recognize the difference between the two. One had left in a foolhardy attempt at being selfless; the other had simply been selfish.
A satisfied smile crawled across May’s face in the dark, and it wasn’t just because the difference between the two had been so stark. Yes, she wanted Em back, but this time it was because she wanted to be with her, not because she needed anyone to save her.
She ran her hand over the short fuzz over her scalp.
“Badass,” she whispered.
“I’m a badass.”
[ Next ]
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 ]
The sun was rising as the Rocket rumbled into a parking lot at the north shore shipyards. May carefully lifted her pack onto her shoulders, locked the van, and tucked the key up in the wheel well.
“Thank you,” she whispered to the old junker of a vehicle with a light pat on the hood. How many times had this decrepit van gotten her exactly where she needed to be? “Kai will be here for you tomorrow.”
In the ticketing office a tired man eyed May warily as he took her money for the fare.
“What happened to your face, kid?”
May fidgeted. As if on cue, a car honked outside, giving her a story.
The man whistled between his teeth. “Musta been a bad one.”
“Could have been worse, I guess,” May said without looking him in the eye.
With her boarding pass tucked safely away, May considered her options. She had 24 hours to kill until her sailing; too much, in her opinion. As easy as it would have been to wait with the Rocket, she didn’t want to risk it in case her family decided to ignore her note and came looking for her. Besides, the idea of being alone didn’t sit well with her. She had kept her mind busy for the past week and a half by obsessing over her plans but now that she was here, there was nothing to stop the fear from creeping in.
Her brain fixated on how truly alone she was, and the thought made her feel vulnerable. Casting anxious, furtive glances over her shoulders, May sought out a place to wile away the hours – a place with people, but also one where no one could come up on her unexpectedly. Jittery and suspicious of every face that passed her, May wondered how long it would take to feel safe again.
Maybe this was a bad idea, she thought. Melanie might still be following me. She could be anywhere.
As strangers filtered around her on the sidewalk, May shrank into herself. Everyone felt too close. Her breath quickened; she needed to find a safe place.
She walked until she spotted a restaurant up ahead. But the relief she felt was short lived: there was someone behind her. May didn’t dare risk looking back, but she could feel a body following too closely. Her heartbeat thudded so hard she felt it in her ears. Panic rose and she picked up her pace – faster and faster until she broke into a full sprint to the restaurant’s door.
From the threshold she chanced a glance back only to find a teenaged boy wearing an oversized pair of headphones, completely engrossed in whatever was happening on his phone; he hadn’t even noticed her take off.
“Get a grip, May,” she admonished herself under her breath.
“Table for one?”
May let out a yelp as she spun to face a startled waitress.
“Is everything okay?” the waitress asked, glancing over May’s shoulder as if she might find something lurking there.
“Yes, sorry. I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t notice you standing there. A table for one would be great. Somewhere in the back if possible.”
The waitress lead May to the back of the restaurant and gestured to a small table.
Too exposed, May fretted. Her fingers twitched, longing for rings to fidget with the way she always had when she found herself overcome with nervous energy.
“What about there?” May pointed to an empty horseshoe booth in the corner that was clearly meant for at least four people. The waitress scowled but her eyes lingered over the bruises on May’s face and she gave a resigned shrug.
With a feeble mumble of thanks, May scooted to the furthest end of the booth and drew up her hood. From here she had a good view of the entire restaurant but knew she was tucked away enough to be relatively out of sight. She let out a slow, calming breath and pulled the laminated menu foreward.
Her eyes trailed over the food and drink offerings with disinterest. Though nothing appealed to her, May knew she had to order something if she didn’t want to piss off her already grumpy waitress. She flipped the menu to find a full page of wine, beer, and cocktail options and something inside her ached. The idea of drinking away her anxiety felt like the perfect antidote, and May was startled by how badly she wanted it. Thankfully it was far too early; the restaurant wouldn’t be serving alcohol for hours. When the waitress returned, May ordered a light breakfast and tea. She privately resolved to ignore the booze menu for the rest of the day.
The day passed at an excruciating pace. To fill the time, May pulled out the curling notepad she had been using to keep her thoughts and plans for her solo mission. Multiple pages were dedicated to the litany of questions that continued to come to her as she tried to imagine how she was going to find a missing wishing star that an entire army’s worth of Loyals hadn’t been able to locate for over two decades.
What do I do if the Murder can’t help me?
Where did the Loyals take Dawn and Oliver?
What does a wishing star even look like???
She kept lists of places she could look and other people she might be able to turn to for help.
Former criminals from the cirque (pretty sure Lenore did time for murder)
Sean and wife (former cops) – would they be allowed to help?
Lunch time rolled around and the waitress hovered around the booth, watching May with a mix of curiosity and bitterness. May ordered a sandwich and more tea, settling up her tab with a better than fair tip that seemed to brighten the waitress’ mood and bought May a couple more hours in her vinyl formica fortress.
Eventually a new waiter – or perhaps the manager – stepped up to the table.
“I’m sorry, miss. We’ve got a bigger party that needs a table and you haven’t ordered anything in a while. Would you mind if I moved you to the bar?”
May couldn’t blame him for wanting to move her, and she appreciated that he wasn’t simply kicking her out. But as she eyed the bar, the idea of sitting with her back to the room and in such tantalizing proximity to four icy draught taps made her shake her head. With a word of thanks, she gathered her things and slipped out of the booth. It felt as if every pair of eyes in the restaurant followed her as she wove toward the door, through the waiting party, and out into the blinding afternoon sunlight.
“Now what?” May murmured to herself. All around her obliviously happy or distracted people came and went without sparing her so much as a sideways glance. She checked the time – perhaps she’d be able to find a hotel that would let her check into a room early. Her mind conjured up an image of a neat and seemingly empty room. Would it be secure enough? She played with the idea of dragging the bedding into the bathroom and sleeping in the tub just for the sake of having an extra locking door between herself and the rest of the world.
She meandered through the streets so fixated on finding a place to stay that she only vaguely noticed the faces she saw along the way. An old couple toddling arm in arm and bickering about what to make for dinner, a gaggle of school-aged kids jostling one another as they made their way to the beach, a beauty with dark features whose eyes flicked to May’s as they passed each other.
A light of familiarity sparked in the back of May’s mind; a twinge of nostalgia tainted by heartbreak.
“May?” asked a voice from her past. “Is that you?”
Her body seized in place. There was no way the owner of that velvety voice could really be the person May’s mind jumped to… could it?
Slowly, May turned. The woman had stopped too. She stood stock still, staring back at May with disbelief.
It was her after all: a touch older but with the same entrancing black eyes May had once spent countless hours gazing into and dreaming of.
Her first love.
May could barely find her voice.
What are you doing here?”
[ Next ]
May waited, biding her time as she worked out a plan.
She wasn’t sure what her mother anticipated in telling May the truth about her birth parents’ and the wishing star. Perhaps she had expected her to rush off, as evidenced by the way Tiio hovered close by during the days and checked in throughout the night. Then again, no one could blame her for being anxious after what had happened at the treehouse. As it was, not even Kai was willing to stay there alone anymore. No matter how hard he scrubbed, he couldn’t get the blood stain off the floor.
“I think I’ll have to change out some of the floorboards,” he told them all over dinner one night. He was playing it cool, but May saw right through him; Kai was shaken, and not one of them blamed him.
He hadn’t gone back to the treehouse since.
And so, surrounded by her family in her now cramped childhood home, May waited.
She waited to gain strength, letting her numerous injuries heal before she made her move. As the days passed her bruises faded from deep blooms of burgundy and purple to ugly shades of yellow and brown. The swelling in her face subsided and the deep, full-body ache she carried ceased to be as all-consuming as it once was – that, or she had simply grown accustomed to the pain.
She mapped out her plan, working through her thoughts in a detective-style map of scrap pieces of paper and spending long hours gazing out into nothing as she played scenario after scenario out in her head. If her birth parents’ were criminals, then she had to get into their world if she had any hope of tracing their path through their final year of freedom.
The deep-rooted secrets of the criminal underworld were very much a mystery to May, but lucky for her she happened to know an entire garage full of people who just might be able to help her out.
When May returned to the hospital for her one-week follow-up, the doctor carefully removed the stitches from her scalp but frowned at the wound on her chest.
“This can be a tricky spot,” he told her. “Just getting in and out of bed or changing your clothes can pull at the sutures. Let’s give this one a little more time, just to be safe. Come back in three days and we’ll see where we’re at.”
Three days. May had a timeline now: three days to get her affairs in order and then she’d be gone.
She spent those three days making covert arrangements for her trip. When her mother was distracted with lunch, May crept away with the excuse that she had a headache and needed a bit of quiet. Once she was alone, she called the shipyards on the north shore and discovered the next passenger ship sailing for the mainland would be two days after her appointment. It wasn’t ideal, but given her condition she was in no shape to trade work for faire this time. She would just have to manage. Choosing what to bring posed its own challenge. Even after the stitches were removed she’d still have to be careful about how much weight she lifted for at least a month. That meant she had to pack light and carefully; only the essentials would do.
The day of her next appointment came and this time the doctor deemed her chest to be healed enough to remove the sutures. She was given stern rules about aftercare and warnings about re-injury and sent on her way.
“Do you think you could drive me out to the treehouse?” she asked of her brother that evening after dinner. “I’d like to grab the rest of my things.” In her mind she could see her backpack slumped next to the bed where she had left it before the attack. She needed it for her journey.
Kai shifted in his seat, his eyes betraying his discomfort at the idea of facing that house. He had only been back once, the day after May was hospitalized so he could clean up and grab some clothes for the two of them; he’d been sleeping in his childhood bedroom ever since.
“Please?” May pressed gently when Kai took too long to answer.
He relented with a sigh. “I guess I have been wearing the same two outfits all week. Sure, let’s go.”
They drove along the narrow packed sand road to the treehouse in tense silence. May could sense the quick, darting looks her brother shot her way as he surreptitiously kept an eye on how she was handling returning to the place where she had been so violently attacked. She didn’t blame him for worrying; had she not been fixated on a mission, May would likely have been too anxious to be there at all.
For the first time since she had built it, May found the treehouse to be cold and unfamiliar. Fear crept up her shoulders as she and Kai stepped into the dark main room.
“I did the best I could,” Kai said, his voice just above a whisper as he gestured to the place where he had found May beaten and bleeding. He had righted all the furniture and cleaned up the debris. The only sign anything had happened was the dark brown stains of dried blood that haunted the floor like unaffixed shadows. “I know I shouldn’t have left the door unlocked but I saw that you forgot your key and I didn’t-”
“It’s okay. You don’t have to justify anything to me, Kai. I’m the one who stormed out when you were just trying to help me.”
May took small, tentative steps toward the stains and regarded them like wild animals; unpredictable and untamed. Seeing it now, May felt like an outsider looking in; as if the blood that left the marks belonged to and the violence that led to them had happened to someone else. She felt like a ghost.
“Are you okay, Maybe?” Kai’s words wrenched her back to the present. She shook her head, taking a sharp inhale to clear her mind.
“Sorry, I zoned out,” she replied, licking her lips. “I still can’t believe it happened.”
“Neither can I. I’m freaked out and it didn’t even happen to me. I can’t imagine what you must be feeling.”
With a hollow laugh, May looked back at the bloodstains. “It wasn’t supposed to happen to me, either. Em sent me away because she thought I would be safer if I wasn’t with her. And somewhere inside I believed her but I didn’t care because I would rather be in danger if it meant I got to stay with her.” She dragged her eyes from the floor to her brother – she had to look somewhere, anywhere else. “And in the end it didn’t even matter. Now I keep wondering whether or not she’s safe. If that’s what they were willing to do to me, what will they do if they ever get their hands on her? What if they already have?”
Kai swept forward and pulled her into a tender hug. May gripped her brother’s shirt and held on as she felt her legs begin to tremble.
“Kai, what if she’s dead?”
“She’s not dead. Don’t do that to yourself.”
Again, they fell into silence. The room loomed around them, the only sounds were the waves and May’s breaths timed to their rhythm.
“You’re going after her, aren’t you?” Kai asked, his voice vibrating in the ear May had leaned against his collar.
“I can’t,” May whispered with a soft shake of her head. She let him make up reasons in his own mind and kept the fact that she had her own job to do to herself.
That night, long after her family had fallen asleep, May eased on her pack and crept from her room.
She wrote a note – You can pick up the Rocket at the shipyards in two days. Please let me do this. – and eased Kai’s keys from a tray by the front door.
The Rocket’s ancient engine roared like thunder in the dead silence of midnight. But if anyone heard it, they didn’t try to stop her. She put the van in gear, pointed it north, and drove off into the darkness.
[ Next ]
The world around May and her mother seemed to freeze. Even her breath hitched in her throat. Only her heartbeat hammered onwards, pounding harder over her mother’s words.
“Are you saying you know something that could help me stop the Loyals?”
Tiio shifted where she sat on the edge of the tub, her face drawn tight with discomfort. “Perhaps. I’m not sure to be honest but it could be a good place to start.”
May’s body tingled with anticipation, like the time Em took her on a roller coaster; fear and excitement sizzling beneath her skin. She leaned in closer to her mother.
“Okay, tell me.”
Her mother sighed and twisted her hands in her lap. “Before you left, your father and I told you about your birth parents and that they were the reason our island was ravaged all those years ago.”
May nodded. She remembered that conversation vividly – after all, it had changed her world.
“The Loyals were probably looking for them because they’d used the wishing star to have me.”
“That’s…” Tiio paused, taking her daughter in with guilty eyes. “Part of the story, yes. But there’s more to it than that.”
May’s heart skipped. “You said they didn’t tell you anything. You said they were trying to keep you safe.”
“I know I did, honey.”
“It seems we all do foolish things when we think it will keep the ones we love safe.” Tiio’s look was knowing. May sat back and let out a slow, calming exhale.
“So, what didn’t you tell me?” May asked.
Tiio held out her hands, palms up, in a gesture of peace. May took them gently and let her mother hold her as she spoke.
“Your birth parents’ names are Dawn and Oliver Gardener. They were criminals; career thieves.”
Shocked, May’s mouth fell open. Of all the things she had expected her mother to say, that hadn’t been one of them.
“According to your mother-”
“Stop,” May interrupted. It was Tiio’s turn to blink in surprise. “You’re my mother. I don’t know these people.”
“Alright then.” Tiio smiled softly. “According to Dawn, they were looking to get out of it. They wanted to settle down, start a family. They wanted an honest life. It was Oliver’s idea to go after one last prize – something he hoped would bring them enough money to get out of stealing for good. So they decided to make their last hit count, and they went after something that had apparently been causing quite a stir. Neither of them realized what they had until after they had stolen it.”
May’s head spun.
“Oh no,” she whispered faintly. “No, no, no.”
Tiio answered with a grim nod. “I’m afraid so.”
“They stole the wishing star.”
“Like I said, they didn’t realize what it was until after they had it,” Tiio reasoned. “All they knew was it was a highly sought after artifact. It was only in the frenzy the theft caused that they discovered ‘the wishing star’ wasn’t just some fancy name – it was an actual star, and the reason everyone wanted it was because it could grant its holder anything their heart desired.”
The implications of this made May’s stomach churn with unease. In her mind, she was back on the beach on the night Em revealed she was part Star. The wishing star’s disappearance, Em had told her, was the catalyst that lead to the Loyals’ rise to arms. If what Tiio said was true, then May’s birth parents were responsible for lighting the match that started the blaze she now found herself up against.
“Did they tell you what they did with it?” she asked, her voice high with desperation.
“At first they had to lay low while they waited for the attention to die down. Oliver wanted to use the star to wish for wealth so they could start their new life right away. But soon enough they started to see what the Loyals were willing to do to anyone who had misused the star’s magic, and they decided they’d be better off getting rid of it.”
Tiio gave May’s hands a squeeze. “That’s when they discovered Dawn wasn’t able to have a child.”
“No,” May groaned, dropping her head. She knew what happened next and she hated it; the fact that her existence was so tighten woven into such a terrible story made her nauseous.
“Come now,” Tiio crooned as she softly traced her fingers through the hair on the unmarred side of May’s head. “It’s not all bad news. After all, we wouldn’t have you if they hadn’t used that star.”
“I know, but…” May couldn’t bring herself to continue her thought.
“Needless to say, when Dawn became pregnant with you, the stakes were higher than they’d ever been. Oliver had a much harder time selling the wishing star once the Loyals started their rampage. So they went into hiding.”
“Which is how they wound up here.”
“How do you know all this?” May asked. “Given the circumstances, I’m surprised Dawn trusted anyone enough to tell them all this.”
Tiio tipped her head, her eyes growing unfocused as she reviewed her memories. “She didn’t at first. Neither of them did. They kept to themselves when they first came to the island. But Dawn was pregnant and wanted a midwife. That’s how we met. She was such a charming woman, so funny and bright. We became friends straight away. Oliver even started helping your father at work, so soon we were spending all our time together.” She smiled at May, her eyes shining ever so slightly. “You look just like her.”
This was the first time May’s mother had ever said anything like that to her. Even before she had given up on asking about them, Tiio had never once given any information on May’s birth parents. To hear now that she had grown into Dawn’s likeness made May curious about her for the first time in ages.
“You were nearly due when the Loyals came to Hoku,” Tiio said, her voice a touch sadder now. “Our best guess is that Oliver’s attempts to sell the wishing star had put them both on their radar. Those monsters laid siege, tearing this island apart looking for them. Your father and I felt so betrayed when Dawn and Oliver confessed what they had done. But they were our friends, and Dawn was due any day. So we helped them hide.”
A single tear slipped from Tiio’s eye. May reached out to wipe it away.
“Then what happened?”
“The Loyals were relentless and the people of Omea were terrified. We knew it was only a matter of time before either we were discovered or someone turned us in, so Dawn and Oliver begged for just enough time to get you to safety, then they promised to turn themselves in. Your father and I agreed to take you in, Omea agreed to wait, and once you were born, Dawn and Oliver kept their promise.”
May swallowed. “What happened to them?”
“I don’t know exactly,” Tiio admitted sheepishly. “The Loyals left the island with them. I’ve never heard from either again.” She sighed and touched her fingertips to her lips. “That’s the real reason why the people of this place have always been so hard on you. It’s not because your parents are from the mainland – it’s because too many of them remember what they brought with them. You remind them of a frightening time.”
“What about the wishing star?” May was long past caring about why the people of Omea never really embraced her as one of their own. She had more important things on her mind. “Did they tell you what they did with it?”
“No. I’m not sure if they managed to find a buyer or if they hid it. All they told us was that they were done with it. And that’s the whole truth this time.”
For a few moments, neither spoke. Tiio watched May as she mulled over this new information.
“I know it’s not much,” Tiio said quietly, breaking the heavy silence. “Maybe it won’t actually help at all, but I thought you deserved to know.”
She was right – it wasn’t much to go on. But it was more than May could have hoped for. Knowing who stole the wishing star was a starting point she hadn’t had before. If she could find a way to dig into her birth parents’ criminal past, perhaps she could figure out what they had done with the wishing star.
And if she could find the wishing star, perhaps she could put an end to the Loyals’ crusade once and for all.
Rising gingerly to her feet, May placed a tender kiss on her mother’s forehead.
“Thank you, mama. I’m glad you told me.”
“Are you angry with me?” Tiio asked in a small voice.
May cocked her head curiously. “What for?”
“For not telling you sooner.” Tiio’s voice cracked, her lip trembling perilously as she took a moment to collect herself. “All this time we thought we were keeping you safe when we were just holding you back.”
Standing was exhausting, so May lowered herself back down beside her mother.
“It’s like you said,” she reasoned. “Sometimes we make poor choices when we’re trying to protect the people we care about.”
Her mind wandered to Em, and for the first time in a long time, the thought of her made May smile.
“The things we do for love.”
[ Next ]
“I don’t know. I came home and heard her screaming. She was alone like this when I found her.”
May felt herself lowered from the warmth of her brother’s safe arms and onto a thin, rigid mattress.
A gurney, she told herself. They were at the hospital.
“May?” came an unfamiliar voice through the fog of pain and blood loss. “Are you with us, May?”
“Yes,” she groaned as hands belonging to a nurse eased Kai’s wadded t-shirt from the gouge down her chest. She wasn’t normally one to get woozy at the sight of blood but her head spun anyway.
“We’re going to take care of you, okay?” the nurse told her in a calm voice. All May could do was nod weakly in reply.
She was wheeled away for stitches and x-rays. While a nurse carefully shaved the side of her head to clean up one of her wounds, May wondered if Melanie was in one of these hospital rooms, either receiving treatment of her own or waiting patiently for her chance to finish the job. Thankfully, May was rarely alone long enough to have given her the chance. Her bones were whole, there was no evidence of violation between her legs – she told them this but they gently insisted in the name of being thorough – and though her stitches were many, her body would heal. Physically, she was going to be fine in time; a doctor gave her medication for the pain and a prescription to fight infection.
“We’ll need to keep you overnight for observation in case of concussion but otherwise you’re going to be okay,” said her doctor, the name of whom she had already forgotten.
“May? Oh, my baby. Who did this to you?”
May removed the cooling gel packet from the side of her face – the one she’d been given to help with the swelling – to find her family rushing into the room, led by her mother. A pair of uniformed peace officers followed them into the room and, after a few quiet words exchanged with the retreating doctor, they shut the door with a soft click.
“Miss Alana,” said one of the officers; a woman whose face somehow managed to show compassion with neither a smile nor trace of pity. “I know you’ve been through a lot tonight but we need to ask you some questions.”
“Right now?” her father asked. “Can’t this part wait until morning? My daughter needs to rest.”
The officer opened her mouth to answer but May beat her to it.
“It’s okay, papa.” She sighed, struggling to straighten up against the pillows at her back but giving up when the pain turned out to be worse that she anticipated. “They’re just doing their job. Can my family stay though?”
“If that’s what you want.”
May told them almost everything – she had been attacked by a woman who had been waiting in the house when she got home; ruddy face, grey eyes, late 30s or early 40s – but held back the facts that she knew who the woman was and what exactly she wanted. She told them about the knife and how she used it to get free. Had Kai not come home when he did things probably would have ended differently.
When the officers finally left the Alana family alone, May closed her eyes against her mother’s tears and the low murmuring between her father and siblings. All she wanted to do was go to sleep and wake up to discover this had all been a terrible nightmare.
“Did you know her, Maybe?” Kai asked at last. “The woman.”
“Yes,” May grunted, her eyes still closed. “She’s a Loyal. She’s looking for Em.”
Ora and her father spoke at the same time.
“What does that mean?” her sister fretted as their father growled, “I knew that girl-“
“Don’t,” Tiio snapped, cutting her husband off with a sharp glare to match her order. “Now’s not the time.”
“Not the time? Our daughter was attacked by some monster just because she used to associate with a Star’s daughter and you’re telling me now’s not the time?”
“Stop,” May moaned. She gazed miserably up at the fluorescent lights as her family fell into tense silence.
“I hate this,” she muttered after a while. Her words were quiet but felt like a shout shattering the silence in the hospital room. She was scared – there was no point in pretending she wasn’t. But she was also frustrated by the knowledge that her family could very well be in danger because of her. What could she do to protect them? Leave? Send them into hiding?
Her heart clenched when she realized what was happening – her fear and worry for her family was not unlike Em’s had been for her. For the first time since they parted, May finally understood exactly where the Star had been coming from. Her decision to send May away suddenly didn’t feel quite so cruel.
She tried to purse her lips, but the split through them made her flinch. “I just wish there was a way to end this once and for all. It has to stop.”
At her bedside, her mother chewed on the inside of her cheek but said nothing.
Kai dragged a chair across the room and set it next to May on the opposite side of the bed from where their mother stood..
“What are you doing?” she asked as she watched him sit and make himself comfortable.
“I’m going to stay here tonight,” he said, as if she were strange for having asked. “I’m not going to have you spending the night alone with that bitch out there.”
“I don’t think you’re allowed to do that,” May replied with a hint of a smile. “But I appreciate the sentiment.” She really did – the idea of spending the night alone in the hospital filled her with fear. “I’m also sorry for storming off. I know you were just trying to help.”
“You can make it up to me by not kicking me out.”
In the end it wasn’t up to May whether or not Kai got to stay. A nurse politely escorted the entire family from May’s room when it was time for her to sleep, assuring them all that hospital security would take extra precautions to keep her safe. But Kai was back first thing the following morning, and as soon as she was given the all-clear from her doctors, he whisked her back to their parents’ home.
Her family moved around May like ghosts, their voices hushed and their touches fleeting. The pity in their eyes had been replaced by worry and had May been less consumed by the stinging, aching pain that seemed to plague every inch of her body, she would have felt guilty about it.
That evening she excused herself to change the dressings on her wounds. In the bathroom mirror she surveyed the damage Melanie had done for the first time. May’s face was mottled with dark bruises and an angry redness around the cuts on her lips and above her left temple. Gingerly she pushed back her hair to reveal the bald patch around her stitches and suppressed the urge to cry. Then, very slowly, she unzipped Em’s hoodie – since her revelation at the hospital she had found herself craving for the Star’s familiarity again – eased the straps of her top down her shoulders, and carefully lifted the gauze from her skin.
Though the doctor had done a fine job with the sutures, the wound was still the ugliest thing May had ever seen. Inflamed, puckered skin was pulled together beneath a neat column of dark stitches and the sight of it made May lightheaded. There was something about the injury that left her feeling disconnected from her own body; she couldn’t reconcile the idea that it was she who bore the evidence of such violence.
How could this happen? she thought bitterly, trying not to think of the mean scar she was likely to carry with her for the rest of her life.
A light knock came from the door.
“Sweetheart,” said her mother. “Can I give you a hand?”
As much as she wanted to say no, just thinking about the task ahead of her made May hurt. She swallowed her pride and tugged her top higher.
“Sure,” she replied.
Her mother bustled in, shutting the door quickly behind her.
“Alright, honey. You sit on the edge of the tub and let me have a look at you.”
She worked in silence, doing in minutes what would have probably taken May at least half an hour. May went between watching the careful concentration in her mother’s eyes and the deft and nimble way her fingers worked. Under her mother’s loving care, May felt the ever-present knot in her chest ease ever so slightly.
But as she finished taping the fresh gauze into place, something about Tiio’s expression changed. Concentration was replaced by strife, and May noticed.
“Mama?” she asked. “What is it?”
Tiio took a deep breath but didn’t meet her daughter’s eyes.
“I was thinking about what you said at the hospital yesterday.”
May frowned. “I can hardly remember anything I said yesterday.”
“About how you wish there was a way to put a stop to all this trouble,” Tiio reminded her, chewing anxiously on her bottom lip.
“Okay,” May said, eyeing her mother curiously. “What about it?”
Tioo glanced away, meeting her own gaze in the mirror and holding it for a moment while she thought. She was trying to decide if she should just keep her mouth shut.
“Mama.” May reached out and touched the tips of her fingers to Tiio’s knee. “What is it?”
“I think I might know something,” her mother answered. She looked back to her daughter. There was something distant in her eyes May couldn’t quite place. “Something that could help you.”
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