Chapter Twenty-Eight

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Under Em's old circus wig and ball cap, May found a public phone she could use at a hotel downtown and called Gallery Penitentiary. She was given an appointment to meet Dawn in three days' time and told in no uncertain terms to be on time or risk losing the privilege.

With the details of her appointment written on her arm with a stolen hotel pen, May wandered the streets of York, taking her time. She was supposed to get a lift back to the Crow's Nest Garage from Dom, who was waiting for her at a sandwich shop a few blocks away. But she dragged her feet, meandering down side streets and in and out of shops. She wasn't ready to be around another person yet, her thoughts were too demanding.

What do you say to a parent you've never met before? May thought. She stared at her reflection in a store window — Necar had said she looked just like Dawn, so she pretended the mirrored version of herself was her birth mother and waited.

How am I supposed to feel?

She didn't know if there was a right answer to that question, but she knew what she did feel then was guilty. Guilty because she didn't feel anything for the woman who gave birth to her — who literally wished her into existence. She was curious, of course — there were dozens of questions she wanted to fling at the woman in the window. But no matter how deep she reached, May couldn't think of Dawn as more than a means to an end.

"Hey."

May jumped. Standing beside her on the sidewalk was Dom, holding a takeaway cup in each hand and a paper bag stamped with the sandwich shop's logo on the side hanging from his wrist. She hadn't heard him walk up to her.

"How did it go?" he asked, giving her that easy smile of his. "Did you get through to Gallery?"

It took a second for May to realize what he was asking. With a shake of her head, she pulled up her sleeve to reveal the date and time scrawled on her skin.

Dom tipped his head to the side. "You okay? You look... off."

"Am I a terrible person?" She didn't mean to spit that out as a response, but it was a question she couldn't shake.

"What?" Dom balked, looking stunned. "Why would you ask that?"

May sighed and jammed her hands into her pockets to hide that they were trembling.

"I've been thinking about the fact that I'm about to meet my birth mother and... all I care about is getting answers. I'm not excited about getting to know her or anything like that."

"And you think that makes you a terrible person?"

She nodded, her eyes trained on the ground.

Dom looked around, shuffling a little in place before thrusting one of the takeaway cups toward May. "Here, take this."

May did as she was told. With his hand now unoccupied, Dom wrapped her in a one-armed hug.

"I might not be human, but even I can tell this is a big deal, Maybes," he said quietly. "You're allowed to have complicated feelings about it."

His words seemed to unwind a knot in her throat, and she exhaled as though for the first time in ages. She leaned into the hug and started to cry.

"I think I'm scared, Dom."

"That's okay too."

She nodded.

He held her until her weeping subsided. Drawing a series of deep breaths, each less shaky than the last, she stepped back and smiled.

"Thank you," she said. "And I'm sorry if I kept you waiting."

"It's all good." Dom beamed, holding up the bag. "I grabbed us lunch to go."

*

They left early on the morning of May's appointment at the prison. Dom agreed to leave his truck at the garage so the four of them could ride in one vehicle. The team, plus one potted plant, climbed into a jacked-up all-terrain vehicle that was the furthest thing from subtle.

"Listen, it's better to be prepared," Lety said when May pointed this out to her. "This thing is a tank. We'll be ready for anything."

"You realize we're not breaking into the prison, right?" May replied, leaning between the front seats where Lety and Dom were sitting.

"Where's your sense of adventure, Tiny?"

May pushed herself back into her seat without responding. They were pulling out onto the highway that would take them to Rhettford. Her birth mother was only two short hours away.

After buckling her seatbelt, May shot a glance at Welkin, who was rummaging around in her pack.

"What are you doing?"

"Reorganizing," Welkin answered without looking up. "You need room for this."

They tipped their head toward the arm cannon that lay on the seat between them. May reached out and ran her fingers across it. Just being close to it made her feel powerful.

"Maybe I should just wear it. That was the whole point, wasn't it?"

Welkin shook their head, their eyes still on the contents of the bag. "You won't be allowed to take it into the prison."

"Ah." May deflated a little. "Good point." She watched them slide the cannon into the pack, snuggly secured between carefully rearranged clothes, and heard the tink of metal on glass. She leaned over and saw the neck of a bottle protruding from the clutter. "Is that the bottle the spark was in?"

There was a pause before the Star answered, softly. "It is."

"Why are you keeping it?"

"Sentimental reasons."

A hint of discomfort filled the air and May hurried to shake it off. "So, I'm your pack mule now, huh?"

Welkin shrugged a single, narrow shoulder. "You are the one with the bag."

They drifted into silence. May's fingers searched for her ring — for a distraction for her nervous energy — and circled the empty space. She had lost track of how many times she had forgotten the ring was gone, but never where it was.

Despite being surrounded by three people who genuinely cared about her, there was a pang in May's heart. Today, something big was going to happen, and she hated knowing she was doing it without Em. Em should have been there.

Then again, she wouldn't be doing this if Em was there either.

Still, not for the first time since this plan had manifested, she wished she could talk to Em. She craved the comfort of her hand in her girlfriend's, and to be able to talk through her complicated feelings about being on the cusp of meeting her birth mother for the first time. She wanted, no matter how the meeting went, to be able to return to Em's arms when it was all over.

May rested her head back on the seat. When this is all over...

She entertained this fantasy for the rest of the trip, eventually dozing on and off until Lety pulled the vehicle into a vast parking lot. They bounced over a set of speed bumps and May jolted awake. Looming through the window was a bleak, towering concrete block wall. Heavy bars blocked every window. Vicious-looking barbed wire coiled atop the ledges like an angry snake.

Lety pulled into a spot and rested a forearm on the steering wheel. They all sat in contemplative silence, staring up at the cold, depressing structure.

There was a skittering sound from the front of the vehicle. Everyone turned in unison to find Fargus settling himself onto the hood. The raven cocked his head and watched them as if to ask what they were waiting for. It seemed to break the spell that had settled over them all.

Dom cleared his throat and turned around in his seat. He met May's eyes.

"Well, kiddo," he said, giving the most encouraging smile he could muster.

"You ready?"

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