After several fitful hours of tossing and turning to no avail, Mana gave in and accepted the fact that sleep just wasn’t coming for her tonight. Their small home was too hot during these summer nights. Not even the breeze coming off the ocean was helping. The girl turned in her bed to face her brother’s for a moment, and in the darkness she could just barely make out his silhouette against a patch of moonlight from their small window. Mahad’s obnoxious snore broke the silence, and she rolled her eyes.
‘ Like a rock, as usual. How I envy you and your ability to sleep deeply, brother.’ After a moment, Mana sighed and flopped onto her back, kicking her blanket to the foot of her bed. She was steadily running out of means to occupy herself.
‘ Hm..Atem has been pretty quiet tonight. Hopefully that means no bad dreams. At any rate, he’s probably sleeping better than I am.’
Rolling to her opposite side, Mana hoped to steal a glance at her friend- only to find Atem’s bed devoid of its owner. Surprised by his absence, she quickly sat up, grabbing her tunic and pulling it back on over her underclothes. Squinting in the darkness, she glanced around and realized she couldn’t see him anywhere else in the room either.
‘ Where’d he go?’
Not one to just lie idly while others were awake, Mana swung her legs over the edge of her bed before padding silently across the dirt floor of their shared room. Giving Mahad a quick glance to assure that he was still out, she silently slipped out the door and shut it softly behind her as she went.
The main room of the house was still and silent, lit only by stray beams of moonlight that shone through the shuttered windows. By their light, Mana made her way to her father’s desk and retrieved the oil lamp and matches. Quickly lighting the lamp, she picked it up and walked back around the room once more. Still no sign of Atem.
A light breeze caught her attention, sending the lamp’s flame flickering. Mana turned to face the direction of the offending draft and quickly found the culprit- an open window.
“Hm..” She could’ve sworn that was closed when she’d gone to bed hours ago. Setting the lamp down on the table, Mana crossed the room to close the shutters again. Reaching the window, she paused a moment, taking in the soft glow of the moon outside. It shone brightly tonight, nearly full. She could see the ocean’s edge from here, hear the waves as they gently lapped at the shore.
And then it occurred to her.
Of course Atem’s bed was empty. There was a clear sky tonight.
She knew exactly where he was now.
“Why didn’t I think of that sooner..” She muttered to herself, returning to the table to snuff out the lamp before turning back to the open window and climbing through. Sure enough, as soon as Mana was outside, she found a ladder leaning up against the outer wall of the house. ‘ Thought so.’
Standing with arms crossed and a half-smile on her lips, Mana turned her attention to the roof, where she quickly spotted a faint glow, which she could only assume was the other lamp. Bored with observing from afar, the girl proceeded to ascend the ladder, making quick work of climbing the rungs and pulling herself up onto the roof when they fell short by a foot or two.
Turning in place on her knees, Mana couldn’t help a soft chuckle when her eyes fell on Atem, right where she knew he’d be, pouring over his mother’s map by the dimming light of the lamp. The boy was so engrossed in fact, that he didn’t seem to have been disturbed by the racket she’d made.
“So-“ she began, clearing her throat to get his attention, “-you trying to chart stars again?”
Atem gasped and whirled round to face her, not realizing he’d been snuck up on. The map crinkled slightly where his fingers had clenched it’s edges. Once he made eye contact with Mana, however, he relaxed visibly, letting out a relieved sigh that turned into a quiet nervous laugh.
“You know, the fear of someone doing that is exactly why I sometimes regret leaving the ladder standing.”
“Then pull it up with you next time. You never know when there’ll be cutthroats planning an ambush.” Mana joked, crawling forward to sit beside Atem at the edge.
Atem scooted over to give her a bit more room, and Mana picked up the lamp and sat it in her lap once she was settled beside him. In the limited space, the pair was forced to sit hip to hip, but neither minded, turning their attention back to the map. Mana studied the markings across it, trying to make sense of the strange letters and characters printed on the parchment even if she couldn’t actually read them.
“Have you figured out where she was going yet?”
“No”, Atem shook his head, pointing to a circled cluster of islands near the far right edge. “And on top of that, your father says he can’t remember having ever travelled to any of these places with my mother in the past. I’ve hit a dead end again.”
Mana studied Atem’s face for a moment while he poured over the marked area once again. He was clearly irritated, but there was something else there as well. Fear? Defeat? Perhaps a mixture of the two. In any case, she hated seeing him so frustrated.
“How long’ve you been at this?”
He acknowledged the question, but guessing by the way he wouldn’t answer or look her in the eye, he’d likely been sitting there for hours.
“I’ll take that silence as ‘too long’. Y’know, you need to sleep to keep a sharp mind, mister. You’re not gonna get anywhere staying up all the time like this.”
Atem was about fire off a comeback when, without warning, the breeze kicked up suddenly, blowing out the lamp’s flame as it went, leaving the pair in darkness. Exasperated, he let out a curse, arms dropping and draping the map over his lap.
”Oh that’s just great.” He complained aloud, merely for the sake of doing so.
Unable to do much else, Mana leaned against her friend, trying her best to be reassuring even with her hands occupied. Her shoulder was warm against Atem’s despite the evening chill, and the contact put him somewhat at ease.
“Maybe we should head back down, get some rest and try to figure it out in the morning.” Mana suggested with a yawn, her second wind finally ebbing having accomplished her goal of locating her missing roommate. At any rate, at least she wanted to go back to bed.
Atem considered her words. ‘ She’s probably right.’ he decided. In the least, he’d be less irate after a few hours sleep, which would be nice.
The boy sighed and went about carefully folding the old parchment, stuffing it into his vest pocket before shifting to wrap his arm around Mana and pull her closer; eventually drawing the girl into an awkwardly positioned hug around the lamp she held. Mana wriggled free one of her arms and reached around him, giving him a reassuring pat before returning the hug.
The pair sat that way for another few minutes before Atem broke the silence.
“Do you think she’s still out there?” He whispered, voice low and baring a trace of lingering doubt. It surprised her to hear him so down. But then again, he’d been thinking about his parents a lot as of late.
Mana paused and thought carefully about how to answer that question for a moment. Atem’s mother, Kimiko, had gone missing a little over a decade ago. When Atem was five, she’d left him in the care of Mana’s parents with an intent to return some months later, but never did. In fact, at this point, there was little reason to believe that she would ever turn up.
There’d been a hurricane brewing when she left the island all those years ago, and as much Mana hated to imagine it, the woman likely perished in the storm as his father had months before. But Atem didn’t need to hear that. He needed reassurance. Something that would chase away nightmares of seeing ships torn apart by raging, relentless waves; so after careful consideration, she thought of something that might ease his mind.
Mana leaned back from the embrace and found one of Atem’s hands in the dark, taking it in her own. Though she couldn’t see his face, she could tell he was waiting patiently for her to speak.
“I do think she’s out there..in fact, I know it. Your mom’s somewhere out there, trying to find her way back to you. She loved you too much to just forget, you know that. Maybe she just got a bit lost on the way back. It’s been a long time since she visited, and she might not remember the way.”
“..Maybe.” Atem sounded better but..still not very hopeful.
“And you know what? If she can’t find us, then we’ll just have to find her. As soon as Mahad turns 18, father’s going to let us take the ship, and we can set out, I promise. Just..hang in there for a couple more weeks, ‘kay?”
For a few moments, Mana received no response, but then Atem made a ‘hm’ sound and squeezed her hand. If she could’ve seen his face then, she would’ve caught his halfhearted smile.
“I’ll try my best. Do you really think we’ll find her, Mana?”
“Definitely. Now let’s go inside. It’ll be morning soon, and if Mahad wakes up and finds us sneaking back into the house, I don’t think he or father will be very pleased..”