Chapter Thirty-Seven

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Having reached some kind of unspoken truce, May and Jeremy spent a few minutes eating in silence. Still, the burgers and fries were a welcome distraction, not only from the day, but from each other as well.

By the time she had eaten her fill, May had time enough to really let their situation sink in. Her eyes wandered over to Jeremy, and she watched him as she slowly chewed on a fry.

"What?" Jeremy asked through a full mouth. He hadn't looked back at her. "I can feel you staring."

"Should we be worried?" May pointed what remained of her fry toward her chest. "About your... thing?"

Jeremy swallowed his overstuffed mouthful and blinked at her in confusion.

May sighed. "The device on your heart. Can't it track you?"

"It's not like I've run away or anything," Jeremy said with a dismissive wave. "I try to visit my mom whenever I'm close to Rhettford. And besides, I check in. Our bloodsucking overlords don't have any reason to suspect I'm up to anything yet."

"But won't it look weird that you're not with the others?"

"Nah, I've got friends here. Or at least friendly acquaintances. And even if I didn't, this wouldn't be the first time I've gone solo. Sometimes I just need a bit of time to myself. It's not unusual to them."

May nodded, melting back with relief. She didn't realize how perturbed by the idea she had been by the idea that the Loyals technically knew exactly where they were until now. Those horrible, malicious little devices attached to each member of WIND's hearts–just knowing that Jeremy was carrying one around, however unwillingly, made her feel like they were barely one step ahead. She didn't know how Jeremy ever got any rest knowing the Loyals would never be very far away; forever dogging him from the shadows.

Jeremy caught the release of tension as it swept across her face. "You only have to be concerned if I suddenly drop dead."

"Jeremy, that's not funny."

"Am I laughing?" He crumpled the foil from his now-demolished burger and tossed it into the trash bin without rising. "Honestly, at this point it would kind of be a blessing."

May inhaled sharply. "You don't mean that."

He huffed a bitter laugh, but didn't reply–didn't so much as meet her concerned gaze. It was in that moment May realized Jeremy probably wasn't kidding. She remembered Em telling her about Audrey's last day–about discovering that Jeremy had lead her away from their team under false pretenses. What was supposed to be a trip of respite for the lovers was actually a cover–he had found someone who could remove the devices from their hearts and was taking them there instead. Doing so would blow up their unbalanced treaty with the Loyals, but he didn't care. All he wanted was to start over with her. He had wanted out of this life for a very long time.

And now?

He had spent years mourning the murder of his fiancee.

His best friend's son had been kidnapped by the enemy.

And he was stuck in a dingy hotel of questionable repute with the woman his true love reincarnated had chosen over him.

Yes, when May lined it all up like that, she found his resignation a lot easier to understand. She glanced up and found him watching, quiet and intense.

"You were right. When you tried to tell me she isn't her. You both tried to warn me, and I wouldn't listen."

His words struck May like a knife in the heart. Sitting beside her was a broken man. His rich brown eyes were downcast, shadowed with hurt and regret. In that moment she felt foolish: if the false (and hopefully temporary) loss of Em had gutted her, she couldn't imagine the depth of his grief knowing Audrey was really and truly gone.

"Jeremy," she whispered. " I am so sorry."

He plucked at his oversized, second-hand t-shirt, looking uncomfortable. "Have you ever known someone so long that you don't really notice them changing? And then one day you look up and think 'if we were meeting today for the first time, there's no way we'd get along?'"

Again, May nodded. His hypothetical question made her think of her sister Ora, and how close they had been as children. But as they grew, the dynamics between them changed, the many obvious ways they differed deepened a divide between them the way a stream grows into a river, cutting what was once one plot of land into two. And once Kane came into the picture with his blackmail and rumours, it felt to May like the only reason her sister still tolerated her was because Omi loved his aunt too much for her to walk away completely. As she thought about it now, May realized she hardly recognized the person her sister had become, and it was a loss that hurt her deeply.

Jeremy looked like he felt her pain. "That's what it's like being around Em. Sometimes I catch flashes of Audrey, of things in her I recognize. But when I try to look closer, she goes back to being out of focus. And it... I don't know."

"It hurts."

"Yeah." His hands dropped into his lap. "It's like losing her all over again."

May shifted with discomfort. It was hard to reconcile her animosity toward Jeremy now that she had seen him so vulnerable.

Jeremy cleared his throat. Glancing away, he ran a hand through his perpetually messy hair. "She misses you. Like, a lot."

"How do you know?" May asked, hoping she didn't sound as desperate as she felt in that moment. "Has she said anything?"

"Not to me, but she doesn't have to."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, you'll see." Jeremy stood and stretched his arms over his head. "Listen, three o'clock is going to come fast. You can have the bed, but I'm gonna crash now. Do whatever you want, but if you could keep it down, that would be cool."

May was taken off guard. Just as she felt they were starting to make some headway, he was shutting things down.

"Okay," she said, feeling unmoored. She rose from her seat and looked around for some sort of direction. "I guess I'll go have a shower."

"Sounds good," Jeremy replied, tipping his fingers in a salute despite his back being turned to her.

May slipped into the bathroom and turned the small lock as quietly as she could, as if Jeremy might be offended if he heard her putting the layer of defense between them.

For a moment she stood with her ear to the door, her breath caught in her throat. She wasn't sure what she was listening for, but whatever it was never came. Jeremy was silent.

By the time May emerged from the shower, scrubbed clean of all the chaos of the very long day behind her, Jeremy was already fast asleep.

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