Part One

1.      The Best Day Ever

Today is going to be the best day ever. We are taking the train out to the country. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a real family day out. Dad says we’ll go on a proper vacation real soon but today is good enough. I wanted to go to the beach but Dad said there would be too many people. He wanted to get away from the city and I don’t blame him. My face was glued to the window the entire train ride out here watching the sky become clearer; as the tall buildings and noises of the city faded into the distance so did Mom and Dad’s fighting. It had been a tough couple of months. Dad was working all the time and Mom was making her own sacrifices to keep the family afloat. But that will all be over soon. Dad promised. I see the way they’re holding onto each other, looking out the window, watching the world passing by. It was nice. It was nice to see them sitting in comfortable silence. Much better than the silence that usually haunts our time together.

“We’re slowing down!”

“We’re almost there, Maya. Just a few more minutes.” Looking back I didn’t recognize the worried look my mom gave my dad when he said this. I was either too young or too excited.

There was a car waiting for us at the train station but I wasn’t ready for another long ride so soon after the last one. I could see the fields across the road and it took every ounce of self-control to keep myself from bolting right then and there. Every part of me longed for freedom. Instead I ran circles around the car as Mom was loading our bags and Dad had stepped into a shop to grab some last minute supplies for our picnic. I had lost count of how many laps I had made when he finally got back. And again we were off, my face once again stuck to a window, completely in awe of all the green. It was everywhere and I just wanted it to swallow me up and fill in all the bland colors of the city.

My feet were moving before the car had even stopped. Mom looked back at me smiling as the tapping of my feet on the floor turned to pounding.  We stopped and I was gone.

“Not too far.” My mom yelled after me.

A loud whoop was all I let out as I looked back to see her setting up some chairs as Dad was making lunch. We were supposed to eat first but all I wanted to do was run and get lost in the tall grass. Just being able to run outdoors and not be worried about breathing bad air or running into someone was the greatest. I could run through these fields forever.

“Maya! Lunch!” But I wasn’t ready just yet. Only a little bit further and I would be at the top of the hill. I desperately wanted to see the horizon in the distance, the open land stretched before me showing off its beauty to anyone willing to leave the city behind and give it the tiniest bit of attention. It had all of mine. It’s all I looked at the whole train ride out here. I could see so far. I wanted to see further. The city was where I grew up but this… this was something more. Just a few more feet now and I would be at the top. Now that was on higher ground I could see my parents below me waving for me to come back.

“I’m almost there,” I yelled back. “Just another minute.”

And there it was. I could still see the city from here. We had traveled for so long and yet I could still see it. Always there waiting for us. And then it wasn’t. Instantly replaced by the brightest light I had ever seen. Then the light was gone and I was no longer on the hill. For the longest time this was the last thing I remembered from home. Years later little bits and pieces would come back to me. Mostly in dreams. Every night I was flying. Further and further until one night I finally hit the ground, landing back on the grass at the bottom of the hill. For years this was the moment I tried remembering the most. The moment that I passed from one world to another. I don’t know if the blast knocked me out midair or if the force of hitting the ground that made me lose that last final image of my home.

I couldn’t have been out too long but the bright midday had been replaced with a darkness that can only come in the latest of nights. Only darker it seems. The kind of dark you get when you go camping. Even this far from the city I expected at least some sort of glow in the sky.

“Mo…” I began to cry but my throat was the driest it had ever been. Every part of me was sore but I managed to sit up anyway.

“Mom?” I finally managed to squeak out. A few more coughs and then, “Dad?”

Where were they? I wanted to cry but no tears came, just empty, dry sobs and the occasional cough. Still sore, I stood up, testing my legs. I had broken my arm once about a year or so back when I fell while climbing the side of our apartment. That pain was worse but this wasn’t concentrated to only one part of my body. It was all over. It hurt to move. It hurt to breathe. But I could stand and if I could stand then I could walk. What I couldn’t do was lay in a field alone all night.

Everything looked different at night. The hill didn’t seem so high anymore and when I looked back in the direction we had set up our picnic I didn’t see any sign of my parents. No chairs, No car. No Mom. No Dad. I couldn’t even find the path we had driven to get here. I followed where I thought it had been and eventually made it back to the road but it too was abandoned. In one direction was a straight shot back to the city and somewhere, the other direction, past too many twists and turns for me to remember was the small town with the train station. In the end it didn’t matter which way I would decide on because before I knew it I saw lights coming down the road.

It slowed as it pulled onto the shoulder, its lights now blinding me. I heard to door creak open and the sound of someone stepping out onto the gravel.

“You all right?” I still couldn’t see anything. I backed away. My parents had given me the whole strangers talk many times but this was an emergency.

“Hey. Hey, little one, what are you doing out here?” The figure was now face to face with me, kneeling right in front of me. She didn’t seem like a stranger. She was youngish, probably in her twenties, but to my childish eyes she seemed so much older. She was an adult and at that moment I needed an adult very badly. My throat still hurt and my voice was hoarse but I eventually got some words out.

“I can’t find my parents.”

“Out here? What were you doing out here?”

“Picnic.”

She stood up, looked down the road, and cursed to herself.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get this all sorted out.” She pulled out her phone and dialed then looked over at me as if she just remembered I was there. “Let’s go wait in the truck, we’re gonna freeze out here.”

I hadn’t even noticed the cold until she said something. “Mmhm.” It looks like we were both unprepared for this situation.

“Hank?” She yelled into the phone. “Yes, I know about the lights. Listen Hank, I’m out here on my way into town and there’s this kid wandering up the highway. Yea, a kid. A little girl. I don’t know. She said she’s looking for her parents. Look Hank, there ain’t no one out here. Well I want you to send someone to pick this kid up. No I’m not—I know you got yer hands full but this isn’t—Alright. Alright. But you owe me Hank.” With that the conversation was over.

Turning her attention back to me she put on a fake smile but I could see it in her eyes. I was her problem now. But I didn’t want to be anyone’s problem. I just wanted my mom and dad.

“Hey sweetie, things are a little crazy right now with the lights out and all. My friend is a police officer and he says I should take you there to the station. Maybe your parents will be looking for you there.

The police. Finally some sense. I wanted to find my parents but I couldn’t see three feet in front of me out in the night and this woman was no help at all. Maybe she was right. Maybe my parents would go looking for me there.

They didn’t.

2.      The Worst Day Ever

This is going to be the worst day ever thought Maya. Tonight is the big night. Abby’s first show. Well, with this band at least. Abby has had a lot of first shows but this was the biggest one yet. People were starting to know her name. People were Maya’s problem. The very thought of all those people has wrecked Maya’s entire day and she wasn’t even going to be the one on stage. Normally she loved coming to work. Getting a job at Maggie’s shop was perfect for her. She only had to answer simple questions based on Maggie’s instructions and show the customers where to find whatever they were looking for. Maggie got all the attention even when she wasn’t in the room. That’s why people came here. For Maggie. Affordable style curation with a mix of new and vintage clothing. Maya loved watching her work and just hanging out in the background, stepping forward only when called upon. Just helping out was enough for her often even predicting what Maggie would say, jotting down in her notes before she even had time to finish speaking. But today was different. All she could think about was tonight and when she started to think about anything that caused ripples in her simple and well planned life it consumed her. She found herself staring off into nothingness far more often than usual and would often miss something Maggie was saying to her, apologizing profusely once her attention snapped back to reality. The nerves and anxiety were too much for her. On one hand she wants to support her roommate and friend but on the other she would rather avoid going out ever again. This isn’t entirely true but when a night out includes a loud club with overwhelming amounts of people Maya’s hermit mode goes into overdrive. She has stocked up on frozen pizzas, cereal, milk, and has a backlog of TV shows she want to catch up on just in case she comes up with a legitimate excuse to stay in. Maybe I’ll have some bad fish for lunch or sprain my ankle on the way home. Maybe I’ll get hit by a car! She excitedly thinks to herself, imagining the bedrest and lawsuit money. Who am I kidding, I wouldn’t sue anyone. Her daydreams are interrupted by the chime of her phone.

“4 MORE HOURS!!” Many would read this text in a tone of excitement but Maya knew what it really meant. Abby can feign confidence for days, weeks even, before a show but in those hours leading up to it she becomes a nervous wreck. This is her first gig with the new band and even though she is overwhelmed by nerves right now she will do just fine when the time comes for her to take the stage. She always does.

“Just got off work. On my way home now.” Alice, too, understood the true meaning of the text.

“Another two hours for me. Should I just meet you guys there?” Maya still had to close up the store tonight. Maybe I can work late, she wonders to herself.

“Nope.”

“Absolutely not.” The two replies came in instant succession.

“No way are you backing out of this one.” They knew her too well.

“See you at home then.” Alice and Abigail were the perfect roommates for Maya. They accepted her for who she is but they weren’t putting up with any of her nonsense, pushing her when they knew she needed it. Tonight she needed it.

“I guess I’m not getting hit by a car then.” Maya says to herself as she puts her phone away.

Six o clock came quickly. A little too quickly for Maya. She walked her slowest to the door to turn over the open sign, hoping some well-meaning customers would wander at the last minute. No luck. They were all being far too considerate. Maya hadn’t even made it back to the front counter before Mags came out and started cleaning up the front.

“Maggie I can—“

“Why don’t you take off early, Abby’s big show is tonight isn’t it?”

“How did you—“

“Zena told me. Go on, support your friends.”

“I can stay and help—“

“No. Go. And give my love to Abby and the girls. Wish her luck for me.”

Maya slowly sauntered to the back of the store to get her jacket and bag then stopped at the door before leaving.

“Are you sure you don’t need any—“

“Go.” Mags was practically pushing her out the door now.

“Alright, see you tomorrow Maggie.”

“Mags.”

“See you tomorrow Mags.” She finally said, succumbing to her fate and began her walk home.

Maya looked up to Maggie. She was the perfect boss for her. She looked at Maya and not only understood who she was but also saw all the potential she carried within her. There was no other reason she should be working here. While Maggie did most of the curating for her customers she still relied on her employees to expand on the selections she had made, or to help out with those who couldn’t afford the full style consultation from Maggie herself, or who were just here to pick up a few items. ‘Traditional shoppers’ they called them. And while Maya did possess a casual eye for style this wasn’t a career for her. It was only a job. A job she loved for a boss she admired and coworkers she got along with but still just a job nonetheless. She would have loved to stay late today. Anything to avoid going straight home right now.

 “LET GO OF ME!”

Well, almost anything. Sometimes our wishes coming true aren’t always a good thing.

The noise was coming from a car parked on the street up ahead. The streetlights had come on but it wasn’t dark outside just yet.

This is not what I need right now. Maya thought to herself. But there was no way around this.

The car was parked between Maya and her building. There were no back alley routes or streets to cross to avoid the situation. She ran her fingers through her hair, straightening it out and tucking it into the back of her shirt then reached into her bag for a pair of sunglasses.

“Hey!” she shouted as she approached the car. The passenger door was open and a woman was halfway out of it, her arm gripped by the driver. A man. Probably a boyfriend. Maya didn’t care.

“Let go of her.”

“Mind your own business.” Other, much less polite, words were used but Maya blocked those out. She did not have time for this.

“You’re in the middle of the street. You made this my business. Now let. Her. Go.” She was leaning on the open door now, her head hunched down to better see the driver. Putting herself between the man and the woman, their entwined arms stretched out beneath Maya’s, her figure was a line she didn’t want him to cross. She was hoping this would be easy but she could tell now it would be anything but. She was right. Maya was so focused on staring him down in intimidation that she didn’t see where he pulled it from but there was now a gun pointed directly at her. He must have loosened his grip on the woman when he reached for it because she was able to finally pull herself free but she was still there, standing right behind Maya, frozen in shock.

“I do not have time for this.” Maya said as she put her hand over the barrel of the gun with the sternest look on her face. “Get. Out.”

The man almost smiled. Then he fired.

3.      The Bulletproof Girl

“You’re late.”

“I know.” Maya didn’t even stop to look at her roommates. Fear and frustration were flowing through her veins and she knew they would notice the moment their eyes met. They always notice. It's a side effect of knowing each other for so long. But there are still parts of her life Maya keeps closed off from them. And they know this. They learned long ago that Maya doesn't like to talk about her past. They know she lost her parents and that she grew up in a group home. She always told them it was too boring to be story worthy. All this is true. What she hides has nothing to do with how or where she grew up but it is a good misdirect. She was afraid that if they knew the truth, if they found out how truly weird she really was, that just might scare them away. And whether she likes it or not, Alice and Abby have been good for her. Losing them would destroy Maya.

“Told ya, you owe me five bucks.”

“Um, no. I agreed with you. No way would I take that bet.” Neither Abbigail nor Alice were surprised by Maya’s tardiness. They expected it even.

“I’ll be ready in ten.” Maya closed the door to her bedroom behind her, leaning back on it and letting out a deep breath. It took all of her self-control to compose herself as she walked from the front door to her room. She didn’t want to let on that anything out of the ordinary had happened. She dumped her bag onto the floor and pushed off from the door, dropping the spent bullet she had clenched in her hand this entire time into the trash can by her desk as she made her way to her closet. Her hands were trembling. The air in her lungs felt thin. She just stood there, the door to her closet wide open, taking in her choices but ultimately decided that changing wasn’t worth the hassle. Stopping once more in front of her door to catch her breath and compose herself. Okay, let’s get this over with.

“Ready.”

“You didn’t even change.”

And let’s keep it that way. “Please, I look fine. Need help carrying anything?”

“Cory’s got all the gear. All I need is my guitar.”

“Then let’s go!” Alice seemed even more excited than Abby. This is the first big thing the three have them have done in a long time. There’s always lunches and dinners, and hanging out around the apartment but the three of them going out at night is a rare treat ever since Alice started up with this new band. Coordinating around the three of their work schedules was hard enough but now with practices thrown in there Abby has been pretty scarce. But they all knew it would be worth it in the end.

Abbigail is the only one of the three with a car. Both Alice and Maya work within walking distance and all of the restaurants and shops they frequent are in the same neighborhood. It was one of the reasons they decided on the building they did.

Alice and Abby were always talking and Maya was always listening. Maya preferred it that way so without even thinking about it Maya walked to the back passenger seat of the car, moving Abby’s guitar over to the other side, and sat down. They had met freshmen year of college. Abbigail and Maya shared a dorm room and Maya and Alice shared some classes. Maya was there to learn, not make friends but Abby had something else in mind. They didn’t share many interests and weren’t in any of the same classes but there was something about the other that they both agreed on. Maya felt like she was the tagalong when she went out with Abigail and her other friends but Abby quickly shut that down.

“They’re the tagalongs, Maya. We’re the power duo. They’ve got nothing on us.”

But Abby was still there pestering Maya to invite some of her other friends out with them. Maya kept to herself in high school and even though they had very similar lives, she just didn’t connect with a lot of the kids she grew up with. College was her way to get away from it all and move on with her life.

Alice was the complete opposite. College was where she wanted to be but she was living in the past. She still kept in touch with all her old friends at other schools and even though she wanted to make new ones she was afraid that she came off as trying too hard. She was right. While everyone else in her dorm and classes immediately clicked, Alice did not. Not with her roommate, not with her study group, not with anyone. Not even Maya. But what Maya and Alice did have in common was time. They both had plenty of time so when study group was over they were the ones with nowhere else to be. So as everyone else blew off Alice’s pestering for further study that left Maya. And Maya just could not come up with an excuse fast enough to deter Alice. So that’s how the two of them started their extended study sessions. Those sessions turned into meals and it was at one of these meals that Abby just so happened to find them. She wasn’t there for any particular reason. She had just come back from a lunch with some of her friends and her classes were over for the day. Abby somehow did that a lot. While everyone else lacked free time Abby lacked classes. The upside was she had plenty of time to study. Not that she needed it. She spent most of her time out with people or staying in with Maya. She didn’t seem like the kind of person that needed alone time but Maya knew the truth. She was on all day but when she needed to recharge all she had to do was put on some headphones or head off to one of the practice rooms with whatever instrument she was teaching herself at the time and she would be good for the rest of the day. She was on her way to one of those jam sessions when she decided to cut through the cafeteria. She didn’t recognize Maya at first, only seeing the chatty girl sitting across from her. Even though she wanted Maya to find more friends she knew that she was spending most of her time alone. Abby accepted that that was just who Maya was. She didn’t reject company but she didn’t go out seeking it either. Normally she would run into her doing whatever it is she was doing by herself. This is why she didn’t recognize her that day in the cafeteria. Perfect! She was never good at hiding her excitement.

“Heeeeeey, Maya.”

“Abbigail.” Great, I’m not going to hear the end of this. It wasn’t that she was hiding anything from Abby, it was just that she wasn’t as comfortable as her roommate at bringing up events and details in her life. So, yes, she might have made a friend in Alice but she didn’t know how to explain that to anyone even Abbigail.

“Hi, I’m Alice.” Alice politely extended her hand. She assumed Maya had to have other friends but she had never mentioned anyone. They only ever really talked about schoolwork. Alice would sometimes ramble about one of the many things going on in her head but it was mostly a one way conversation but Maya never looked bored or tried to blow her off so she continued to tell her stories.

“Abby. So are you coming with Maya to the concert tonight?”

“Ummmm…”

“Just say yes, she’ll just pester me until you come out with us. Abby’s my roommate by the way.”

“I can’t believe you did that.” Maya told Abby later that day.

“Yea you can.”

“You’re right. I wasn’t that surprised.”

They’ve been together ever since, each adding their own unique flavor to their group dynamic. Abby with all the flash and flair, Alice and her nigh nonstop mouth, and then Maya who was just Maya. Always in the background. But if you look hard enough you can find some unexpected stories hiding in the background.

4.      Flannel

Abby had been in a variety of bands throughout her musical pursuits. Often she would just perform solo in small coffee shops and college campuses. Maya didn’t mind these kinds of shows. Shows where she could relax, have a cup of coffee, and show her support for her friend. But of course this was never Abby’s dream. She dreamt of a band. And she often had one albeit with a rotating cast of performers she either met at school or at shows. But this is the first time she had a brand new band. “This one is different,” she would tell Alice and Maya. That was all she told them. They were barred from rehearsals which was also something new. They were so used to Abby having her friends and fellow musicians over for jam nights or just showing up to parties and the band members congregating to some corner and turning the party into an impromptu concert. This was the first time her two roommates were going in blind. Or deaf, in this case.

Maya found a small circular table opposite the bar to avoid the venue’s patrons and far enough back from the stage to make room for the rowdy concert goers. Ideally she would have loved to watch from the side of the stage but Abby told her it wouldn’t be possible for this show and she could see why now. The place was packed. All of Abby’s work had paid off. When she wasn’t at rehearsals she was working her butt off promoting the show. She had been purposefully holding back any previews of the music to build hype for tonight. Maya recognized some of the others from Abbigail’s circle of friends and even saw some folks she hadn’t seen since college, politely returning a wave as they passed by her.

“I will abandon you when the set starts.” Alice informed Maya upon seeing the table she had picked.

“It’s okay, go, have fun.”

“Chill out, I’m not gone yet. They don’t go on until eight.”

“Well this is definitely different.”

How Zena and Carlotta found Maya and Alice was a miracle as more and more people began to pack themselves into the building. Zena was dressed to the nine as usual. Maya assumed the reason she worked at Mag’s was for the employee discount. Carlotta was there for the discovery though, always digging in to vintage stock and pairing them with the new arrivals like an endless experiment with her as the test subject. Some of her ideas made Maggie chuckle and said that it looks good on her but don’t go trying to sell that look to any of the customers.

“I like it.” Chimed in Carlotta, wide eyed and taking in the crowd.

“I may have to take a page out of Maya’s book and just chill back here all night.”

“Oh, come on, your outfit will survive a little sweat.”

“It’s not just the sweat I’m worried about,” Zena said, eyeing a passerby decked out with spikes and studs coming out from just about every article of clothing he was wearing.

“Well then me and Alice will just have to hit the dance floor alone then.” Even though Alice’s conservative appearance was a stark contrast to Lottie’s the two got along better than most. They were often mistaken for sisters. Twins even on occasion. Two sides the same coin. Alice with her conservative style with pristinely natural straight hair and Lottie with whatever color she had chosen most recently for her hair and the oddly paired articles she had acquired from the discount racks at work. But there they would go chattering about this or that, often even finishing each other’s sentences.

“I don’t think this crowd is ready for our sick moves.” Alice responded sarcastically.

“Oh they won’t know what hit ‘em.”

“Oh god,” Zena exclaimed while scanning the crowd. Amidst the sea of flesh and black leather stood out a lonely figure of color headed right their way. “I’d recognize that flannel anywhere.”

“Oh my god, Kyle!” Lottie exclaimed, arms outstretched, embracing him as he approached. “What are you doing here? It’s been forever.”

“Oh, you know, just getting a lay of the land. Doing some promoting for an upcoming show.”

“Still making flyers with your Crayolas, Kyle?” Zena asked, eying the open envelope nearly overflowing with identical papers.

“Oh, Zena,” He said, draping his other arm around her shoulders. “I’ve missed you too.”

“Guys, this is Kyle. The three of us were inseparable from the first grade.”

“Unfortunately.” Zena chimed in.

“Until he betrayed us and went off to art school.”

“Well yea, about that…”

“Details later, Kyle.” Lottie said with a concerned look on her face. “Tonight is for fun. And friends. This is Alice and Maya.”

“A pleasure.” Kyle said, politely taking their hands.

“How’s it goin’.” Replied Alice.

“Hey.” Maya said in her usual sheepish manner, barely making eye contact, instead focusing softly on their hands as they made contact. This was her normal tactic for meeting new people. But there was definitely something different going on behind the scenes in her head with this introduction. She would have to investigate further later. She was always this analytical with her emotions. She was afraid of them. This was her way of staying in control.

Kyle knew right away that there was something special about this girl. His heart began beating faster and it was becoming hard to breath. Be cool. Be cool. Be cool. He reassured himself. He often let his emotions carry him away and that usually led to buffoonery on his part. But luckily the lights went down and everyone’s attention turned to the stage.

Maya would have to dig into her feelings later. Abby was standing center stage now with a single spotlight on her, her band silhouetted beside her.

5.      Then The Music Began To Play

AND

IT

WAS

AWESOME.

6.      This Might Just Work

The music was over for a full twenty seconds before Maya came to. She could still feel it in the air, her bones vibrating with the energy it released over the crowd. She let it out with a long exhale. Her eyes had not left the stage since Abby started her set. Now that the music had died down the lights came back and the crowd began to disperse she could hear Kyle’s voice beside her. Her attention snapped back to her immediate vicinity to see that she was alone at her table with him. Alice, Zena, and Lottie must have rushed the stage once the band began to play. She was still smiling to herself when she came to, the music still fresh in her mind. Kyle was laughing now. It must have been something he said. When Maya realized where she was and that there was this stranger standing next to her talking her smile immediately faded. Kyle didn’t notice though. He was still telling his story as he faced the crowd smiling and nodding his head to greet Zena, Lottie, and Alice as they exited the crowd.

“HOLY CRAP!” Alice yelled as she approached Maya. “Did you see that?”

“Yea that was…”

“That was something else.” Zena responded in Maya’s placed only to get elbowed in the side by Lottie. “I mean, it was great, it was just unexpected.” She was covered in a layer of sweat and her hair was slightly disheveled. It was a normal look for most people but anything less than perfection was unusual for Zena. The smile was a strange addition as well. Zena usually got enjoyment from either something witty she said or at the expense of others, oftentimes those two went together. An outside force making her smile was not the norm. An outside force was a great description of what Abby just created on stage.

“Oh, we gotta do that again. But until then,” Lottie leaned over onto Kyle, wrapping an arm around his neck, “When are gonna see you again now that you’re back?”

“Well as I was just telling Maya here, she seemed pretty into the idea of all of us going out after this. You know, to catch up.”

“Wait, what?”

Alice and Zena eyed Maya in confusion but Lottie just smiled and said, “Let’s do it” as a guy covered in sweat and looking exhausted approached them.

“Well?”

“You killed it, Cory.” Alice answered the young man who had just walked up. Cory had been an on and off again band member with Abby depending on what kind of project she was looking for. “Where’s Abby?”

“In the back, staving off all her new fans.”

“What about your fans?” Zena chimed in.

“It doesn’t matter how good a guitarist you are if you’re up there with Abby.”

“Cory, this is Kyle. We go back forever. We’re all grabbing food after this, you guys in?”

“Sure thing, I’m just about to pull the van around and load up our gear. I think the other guys are gonna stick around and check out the other bands but I am beat.”

“What about Abby?”

“You know her, she loves the spotlight but only if she’s on stage. I think she’ll want to avoid the attention out here on the floor. I’ll ask her but she probably wants to bolt. She’d rather hang out with you guys than these other bands anyway.”

Maya looked at the crowd gathered around her. She was used to dealing with any two of them at a time but all of them gathered together in one place was a bit much for her. And they just kept growing. She only kind of knew Cory from school and now Kyle was thrown into the mix as well. Despite her anxiety, the dampness in the air created by hundred concert going strangers, and the nearly deafening background noise it all still felt right. It felt like home. It was a feeling she was still getting used to. A quiet comfort among the noise. She felt like she could get used to this. Her phone suddenly vibrated.

“Abby’s outside.” She finally spoke up to her friends.

“Let’s go.” Alice yelled. Lottie whooped and grabbed Kyle by the arm, Zena looked longingly back at the crowd as the next band was about to start as she followed them out.

“Yea, this just might work.” Maya said to herself, gathering her things, and trailing behind her friends.

7.      Uncomfortable

After tonight Maya felt like she needed to recharge her batteries for a whole week straight but she learned long ago that going out with Abby and Alice was a long term commitment. The kitchen in the diner down the road closed at 11 but they wouldn’t be kicked out until after 12 or whenever the coffee ran out. As usual all attention was on Abby. No one expected a show like that, even Cory who had been playing with Abby on and off through most of her musical endeavors.

“So, Abby, now we know why we haven’t seen much of you lately,” Zena started. She was always the first to speak up when no else would.

“Hey, yea, guys that was great. If you ever need anyone to design anything, hit me up.” Kyle said, desperate to be included in the conversation.

“Stow the sales pitch, Kyle. ‘All work and no play…’”

“Work is my play.”

“Whatever happened to art school, Kyle?” Zena, once again, bringing up the question no one has asked yet.

“Oh, you mean art on demand? That just wasn’t for me.”

“Couldn’t hack it, huh?”

“Zena!” Lottie and Zena were two very different kinds of friends. Zena had no problem calling someone out and Lottie would be there to comfort them and encourage them to keep moving forward. They were good cop and bad cop. Tough love and nurturing support. Kyle was used to it but that doesn’t mean he always enjoyed it.

“I see you haven’t changed one bit, Zena. But she’s right. I always had trouble working at someone else’s pace. I burnt myself out trying to keep up.”

“Wait, so are you back? Like back back?” This both excited and concerned Lottie. On one hand, seeing one of her best friends again was great but at what cost? She would rather see them excel than see them every day.

“Yea, Grandma stored all her sewing stuff in my room when I left but it’s got a bed and place for my laptop and that’s all I really need right now.”

“Except for a job.”

Abby and her crew had been politely quiet during their friend’s reunion. Meeting new people was always great, meeting their baggage at the same time definitely was not ideal.

“How do you feel about retail?” Abby chimed in. There weren’t many jobs you could get with Abby’s preferred skillset. While she was outgoing and great with people she refused to put in the time for something she was not absolutely, one hundred percent, devoted to. The only things she put that much attention into was her friends and her music. So she has bounced from one major retail chain to another since high school, changing only when she moved. She did exactly what was expected from her job and nothing more. Because of this she held some clout with her superiors but never enough to advance her position too far. This was her job, music is where she put in the real work.

“Ha.” Zena laughed.

“It can’t be that bad, right?” Kyle asked Lottie.

“It comes with a sweet vest…” Abby added, a hint of sarcasm in her offer.

Maya sat quietly throughout the entire exchange. Anything more than two people was too much for her. Trying to fit in a conversation between all the praise for Abby and Cory and the playful insults Zena and Kyle were hurling at each other was too daunting a task to attempt. Alice, on the other hand, had no problem navigating through all the chatter. She would easily switch between questions about the future of the band and stories from the trio’s childhood. Alice was always good with this sort of thing. The people thing. Maya was good at the sitting back and quietly observing those around her thing. That was her thing. She wanted to watch the story unfold around her much like in her books and TV shows. She was merely the viewer for which these stories o place for. Being part of a story was not in her interest. She was afraid of what her role would be in such a story. The loner. The freak. The outcast. It’s much better watching from the outside she would think to herself. Its better this way. Better for everyone.

8.      There May Be No Running Away From This One

“STOP!” I want to shout but nothing comes out. My lungs are burning from running up this endless hill. I can hear my parents calling me from down below. I so desperately want to turn and see one final glimpse of them but my body refuses to obey me. I head for what I know to be the biggest turning point in my life. The subject of all my nightmares. This nightmare. My parents are still shouting but their voices are getting further and further away and their cries are drowned out by a childish laughter. It’s me. I’m laughing and I can’t stop it. That youthful joy consumed me. If only she knew now what was about to happen.

“Look back. Please, just one more time.” I plead to myself. “Please, let me just have one more look.” But she, I, refused. I just wanted to run. Life was plain and boring and I just wanted to run through those fields forever. I wanted excitement, I wanted adventure, now I just want to go back.

A bright light and then nothing. Again, nothing.

Maya almost never slept in. She also almost never stayed out past midnight. She, Abby, and Alice got back to their apartment well past two in the morning and despite a full day of work, an evening out, and then a late night with friends, Maya still had trouble falling asleep.

She could hear the muffled sound of her alarm and feel the slightest of vibrations coming from somewhere on her bed. It wasn’t unusual for her to fall asleep with her phone in her hand but she usually had it plugged in. Now, lost somewhere between her blankets, Maya knew there was no way it was plugged in, charging. What time is it? She thought to herself. She dug around underneath the covers until her hand found her phone, still vibrating but now silent. She was late. Well, not late but late for her schedule. Maya had a tendency to be early so she had a cushion for everything. Every alarm went off fifteen minutes before it needed to. The problem was that Maya had slept through her first alarm to wake up in the morning and was now looking at the alarm that had been going off for the past five minutes. She was supposed to have already left for work.

“UUUGGGHHH!!” Maya yelled, kicking off her covers yet still lying in bed with her eyes closed. She is not ready for the world. But she can’t let that stop her. Finally after the minutes stretched out refusing to give her the rest she needed she sits up in her bed plugging in her phone for a quick charge while she gets ready for the tiring day she knows is ahead of her.

The apartment is quiet. Alice was already at work, no doubt in her usual cheery mood even after only a few hours pf sleep. Maya envied her for that. The door to Abby’s room was also open. Empty. She must have left this morning too. Rehearsal probably. Even after just debuting the new band there was no time for a break with Abby.

Checking the time on her phone as she walked out the door she saw that she had approximately ten minutes to make the fifteen minute walk to work. She also had some new messages.

“Lunch?” It was Alice. She had sent it at 11.

“Absolutely.” Abby’s response was immediate.

“Maya?” It was almost 1 now. They had hoped to get ahold of her before her shift at Mag’s but that didn’t happen. She decided to respond anyway.

“Just woke up.” Followed by, “Work in 5. I’m late.”

Her roommate’s response was in the form of a selfie. It was Abby and Alice, sitting on an outdoor patio at some café somewhere both of them giving her what they always called their ‘serious face’. She recognized it immediately and smiled. They always gave that face to each other but could never hold it for long before busting out in fits of laughter. She sees them every day but right here, now, looking at this photo, she misses them.

Outside she is blinded by the midafternoon sun, placing her phone in her bag she also removes her glasses and pulls out a pair of sunglasses to fight the brightness all around her. Maya already knew today was not going to be her day.

Zena is adjusting the window display when Maya walks in, a half dressed mannequin lying on its side with several articles of clothing draped over it.

“Late” is all she says, not even looking up at Maya.

“I know. I know.”

“Geez Maya, you’re never late.” Lottie is adding items to the clearance rack near the front counter, a pile of which seem to have made their way onto the side of a cart, no doubt going home with her that day.

“Is Mags here?”

“In the back.”

Usually she walks into work, her head up, eyes looking around for something to do but today is different. Today her head is down, hoping to avoid eye contact with the woman she has surely disappointed. “Sorry I’m late Maggie, I slept through my alarm, I don’t know what was going—“

Looking up from her computer Mags adjusts the glasses on her face and looks at the watch in the inside of her wrist. “Honey, you’re two minutes late and we have zero appointments today, you’re good. Now why don’t you go out there and fold something, look busy.”

“Yes ma’am.” She got felt like she got off easy but that did not improve her mood one bit. If the disappointment in her wasn’t going to come from her boss then it would come from within instead. She knew this couldn’t be healthy behavior but Maya felt that discipline was a foundation of her being. She was always trying to keep herself in line even when there was nothing apparent that her situation would be anything other than that.

“And make sure Lottie leaves some items for the customers on the clearance rack.” She shouts after her.

Stowing her bag in the back, Maya assesses the store through the doorway separating the show floor from the small employee area. Mags was right, it looked like the place had been empty all day. When she walked out onto the floor, Lottie was already at the front counter with a pile of clothes ready to check out. Kyle was with her. She did not need this today.

“Hey, M, come check me out, will ya?”

“Sorry I was late, Lottie.”

“No problem, I had to wait around for Kyle to come by anyway. Plus,” she gestured to all the things she pulled from the clearance rack before her.

“Hey Maya.”

“Hi,” Maya responded sheepishly as she started sorting Lottie’s purchases. It was one thing to meet someone new but an entirely different thing to see them again the next day. Maya preferred to ease into things. Meet someone, maybe the next week see them again, and again a few weeks after that. And always in short bursts. A party she would leave early, a lunch she would wordlessly sit through. Seeing someone new again so soon was unprecedented. Maya refused eye contact but Kyle never once looked away. It was distracting seeing him out the corner of her eye. She could hardly pay attention to what Lottie was going on about, and before she realized it, she had rung up all of her things and was being handed a wad of cash in usual Lottie fashion.

“Alright, later M. Let’s not make this tardiness thing become a habit though.”

“Bye Maya.” Kyle echoed, finally turning his gaze from her as he and Lottie headed out of the store.

“Bye.” She responded, finally looking up at him.

“Zena, you rule, I’ll see you later.” Lottie shouted to Zena, still kneeling inside the window display, struggling with one of the mannequins.

“Don’t miss me too much Zena.” Kyle shouted after her.

“Lottie. Kyle.” A cold, metallic tone added to his name. She finished up with the display and hopped down from the window area, making her way to Maya. “So. Kyle.”

“Huh, what?” Maya asked, snapping out of her distant stare.

“The two of you. Look, I’m not a fan of Kyle but he isn’t a terrible guy. And he definitely is into you.”

“What?”

“Oh, come on. He couldn’t keep his eyes off of you.”

“I-I didn’t notice.”

“Yea, because you refused to even look at him. And, yes, I know that’s your usual look but this time you were purposefully avoiding giving him any sort of attention.”

“I was not.” Maya bashfully responded, now avoiding eye contact with Zena, desperate for some busy work to excuse herself from the conversation.

“Oooooooo, I knew it.” Zena said, leaving Maya alone to think about what just happened. I mean, he talks a lot and smiles entirely way too much but do I like him? No way. Not gonna happen. These thoughts were interrupted by her phone once again.

“Dinner’s on you sleepy head.” It was Abby.

“Not pizza” Came an instant response from Alice.

“Anything but pizza.” They must still be hanging out.

“Pho?” She asked before putting her phone away. She was entirely too tired for a day like this. Maybe a nice dinner and a movie with her best friends will alieve all of what has been going on today she thinks. Maybe things will be all right. But she knows that no matter how much avoiding and hiding she does the world will only snap back and hit her even harder than before. There may be no running from this one.

9.      They Always Do

A night in was exactly what Maya needed after a day like this. Anything would be a welcome distraction from the words Zena sprang on her that afternoon. Kyle? She couldn’t shake the thought from her head. This was not part of her plan. Then again her plan was to never change. Change was complicated, it was problematic, it was a necessary part of life. But Maya didn’t want that kind of life. The one she had here was just fine. Not perfect but she was afraid that any little thing could tip the balance in the wrong direction and she was finally comfortable where she was at. She had the perfect amount of friends, a job she loved, and she had her secrets safely tucked away keeping both her and those around her safe. Kyle was an unknown variable. Not only that, she just could not stop thinking about him. No matter how many times she tried to suppress her thoughts he would just pop right back to the front of her brain. Nope.

“Nope what?” Abby asked as she passed by her in the kitchen to toss the remnants of her dinner into the trash.

Maya wouldn’t think out loud often but she did have a habit of getting lost in thought, daydreaming the days away and that would sometime leak into her life at the most inopportune times.

“Huh? What? Sorry,” she quickly said as she came to. “I was just thinking out loud.”

“What is going on in that head of your Maya?”

Too much, she thought to herself, shaking her head. “I’m just still tired from last night. I think I’m just going to go to bed.”

“Maya’s backing out!” Abby shouted into the other room.

“But we don’t even know if they’ll end up together yet.” Alice yelled back.

“What?”

“You know the rules, Maya, if we stop the movie now then we’ll never know if they end up together.”

Right. The movie.

“Oh, they’ll end up together. They always do.”

They always do. That was what Maya was afraid of.

The following day Maya felt much better. There was still that nagging in the back of her head but a full night’s rest strengthened her defenses and any stray thoughts were immediately squashed. Luckily for Maya, Zena had acted like yesterday’s conversation had never happened. In fact, the workday had been surprisingly pleasant.

It was too good to be true. But Maya was blinded by the ease at which the day was passing.

“Sup, Maya?” Lottie said as she shimmied up next her as she was returning items from the dressing rooms back to the racks they belonged.

“Lottie.”

“So, Friday?”

“Yea, Friday. That is a day.” This coming Friday was their regular pot luck party. Everyone brought something or the ingredients to make something (Unless you were Zena and bought something). It was their community gathering. A time to relax and just hang out cooking and eating. It had been a staple in their apartment since Abby, Maya, and Alice had moved in together. They had since invited their coworkers and bandmates along, growing their community here. “Why? What are you bringing?”

“That’s the thing, it’s not about what I’m bringing but about who I’m bringing.”

Oh no. No no no no no.

“I mean, I know it’s no big deal but when I brought it up with Zena she asked if I ran it by you first and I was all like, Maya will be cool with it, of course she would be, why wouldn’t she, and Zena was like, all right but you are bringing a stranger into her apartment so I was like, alright but Kyle isn’t really a stranger, I mean, they seemed to hit it off at the concert, so it’ll be fine, and anyway, so yea, I knew you would be cool with it, and anyway, oh my god, it’s gonna be so fun, I think I’m gonna do a dessert this time, you are gonna die when you try it, it’s so good. Thanks a lot Maya, Friday is gonna rule.”

Friday. One word and her entire week is ruined. It has occupied her every thought, no amount of pushing could keep this back. She just might have to deal with it. Confront the terror head on and hope she lives through it. What am I thinking? Of course I’ll live through it. I’ve just got to survive one night. But even that calm reassurance wasn’t enough to ease the nervous wreck she would become for the rest of the week. Friday couldn’t come quick enough. Friday and it would all be over.

10.   Friday

Everything was not better. Maya had tried to block everything out. She was so focused on not being focused on Kyle. It was not working. Even the busy work of preparing tonight’s meal wasn’t working. She had chosen enchiladas for tonight. It was a dish she was rather fond of growing up and like many dishes, this one had been altered to fit her situation. Maya was lucky enough to have lived in the same group home for most of her childhood. Many weren’t so lucky, moving from home to home within the system waiting for a permanent place to finally settle down. As the oldest in her home and with a significant age gap between her and the next oldest, Maya often helped out with meals. And because cooking for seven is a feat unto its own, many recipes were adjusted and many ingredients were completely left out to appease the picky appetites of the younger children. Everything was muscle memory at this point and the work only cleared her head, making more room for those unwanted thoughts to creep in and latch on to her inherent anxiety. No one noticed, of course. She was just being her usual, quiet, determined self as she navigated the kitchen. First she had taken her casserole dish and covered the bottom with a layer of corn tortillas, then applying a canned enchilada sauce over the tortillas and covering that with ground beef, cheese, and olives, placing another layer of tortillas on top and then repeating the process until the pan was full. In the end it resembled a lasagna. She had always wanted to experiment with the recipe, adding the ingredients that the other kids refused to eat, changing out the meats, or even just rolling the tortillas in a more traditional dish but she always backed out right before she would go grocery shopping. Might as well just stick with what I know and leave the fancy dishes for eating out. With her enchiladas now in the oven she began to clean, hoping that maybe it will clear her mind a bit. The anticipation was getting to her more than she knew her actual interactions would. She still wished that she could spend the night hiding out in her room but there were not enough people here for her presence to go unnoticed.

“Are you using that?”

“Huh, what?”

“Sorry,” It was Cory. She hadn’t even noticed his arrival. She was so wrapped up in her own head that she was missing the party. If only I could miss the whole thing, she thought to herself. “So, the knife?”

“Yea, here you go. Sorry about that. I was… I was somewhere else.” She handed the knife she was cleaning to Cory as he unpacked a paper grocery bag with various vegetables. “A salad?”

“Yea. You laugh but my culinary skills will transform this paltry sack of veg into a salad that will literally blow you away.”

Maya smiled, she didn’t always understand the nonsense that came from Cory’s mouth but it reassured her that tonight was just a normal night amongst friends. That’s all she wanted. A normal night.

“Knock knock.” There was no point in locking the door when everyone was welcome. That is probably why Maya didn’t notice Cory’s arrival. But Zena would not allow her presence to go unnoticed.

She casually slid her store bought pie onto the table as Cory called her over.

“Hey, Z, come help out here. I’m in dire need of your mad skills.”

“The only ‘mad skill’ I have is watching you do all the work.”

With that Maya extracted herself from the kitchen. Ever since their conversation about Kyle, Maya had been trying to limit her time around Zena. And Zena noticed. She watched as Maya quietly left her and Cory to the salad. She watched her specifically avoid eye contact with her. Zena understood people. It was easy for her but Maya was something else. Most of the time she knew what to expect from her but her reaction to the realization about Kyle’s feeling was not what she had expected. What she expected was a lot of blushing and suppressed smiles. The normal reaction from a shy girl being told a cute guy might be into her. This was not that. This was something else. Something Zena didn’t quite understand. And why would she? Maya was quite skilled at hiding her fear from those around her. The irrationality of it helped. There was no reason for anyone to suspect that she was hiding anything from them and even less of a reason to suspect the exact thing she was hiding. She was different. She knew that but she didn’t like it. Many people would consider her unique abilities gifts but not Maya. She thought about the crumpled bullet still sitting at the bottom of the trash can in her room. That was not normal. And where many people would feel excitement, Maya felt fear. She didn’t even want to begin to think of not only what her friends would think of her but what the world would do with her. It was too much. Even with everyone here, everyone close to her, she felt like she needed to hide.

Her hand was on the doorknob to her room when she felt the gently squeeze of someone else’s hand in hers. She turned and looked into Abby’s eyes. Alice was behind her, still at the bar but motioning with her head to come rejoin the party. They were just looking after her. They are her friends and they only want what’s best for her and while she knows that running from social situations isn’t the best reaction to her feelings the fear of everything else in her life is still tugging at her. She smiles and removes her hand from the door, silently thanking her friends for keeping her in line.

Maya’s momentary calmness became short lived the moment she heard the familiar rattle of the front doorknob. Her reflexes kicked in and instinctively she squeezed Abby’s hand a bit harder. Maybe too hard.

“Ow. Maya!” She whispered.

“Sorry.” Her eyes were glued to the front door even though she knew exactly who was going to walk through it.

“What’s up party people?” Every time. Of course Lottie doesn’t say these sorts of things for a reaction. Everyone was just so accustomed to the odd way she would speak. And dressed. And acted. Lottie definitely was an odd one.

Kyle was right behind her still unsure of his role in this whole get together. Does he say hello to these people he just met? Or does he wait for them to come to him? And what about that cute girl that has been staring at him since he walked into the apartment? Kyle’s brain was always full of these sorts of insecurities, it was a miracle he could make any decisions at all.

“Kyle!” Cory called from the kitchen.”

“Hey hey!”

“Zena is butchering my salad. Tag in and give me a hand.”

“You handed me a butcher’s knife, Cory. What did you expect me to do with it?”

“Yea, I don’t know what good I’ll be able to do here…” He was cut off by a cold scowl from Zena. “…but any situation where Zena isn’t holding a knife seems like a good one.”

“I’ll leave the women’s work to you two, I’m going to go mingle. Ta ta boys.”

Having pawned Kyle off to Cory’s salad duty, Zena made her way back to the girls in the living room, grabbing Maya by the arm as she passed by and dragging her away from the safety of her roommates.

“So, shy gal… you, Kyle, in a small apartment with five other people. What’s your plan?”

Maya ran through the list in her head.

1.      Never approach him, or go near him, or maybe even any room he may be in.

2.      Avoid eye contact at all cost.

3.      Always use the buddy system.

4.      Limit any unavoidable interactions with singly syllable responses.

5.      RUN!!

“I don’t know.” She finally said aloud.

“Maya! Time!” She heard Abby call from the dining room.

She left Zena and headed back to the kitchen, tapping the screen of her vibrating phone on the table. Little taco and sushi emoji were telling her that the food was done. Unfortunately, while finished assembling their salad, Kyle and Cory still stood in the kitchen between Maya and her oven. Zena had followed Maya back and was leaning on the bar ready to watch the drama unfold.

“Excuse me.” She said in her sheepish tone, not taking any chances and staring directly ahead at the oven, focusing only on her destination. She turned all the switches to the off position and then it happened. She heard his voice.

“What is that heavenly aroma?”

Maya tried her hardest to push the voice out of her head but it was no use. In her attempt to blend herself into the background of life she had hardwired herself for politeness.

“It's, uh…” She began as she said the glass pan onto the top of the stove. “Enchiladas.”

Kyle looked at the dish quizzically. “Uh…”

She was cutting her lasagna-like enchiladas into squares and placing them on small paper plates, applying a dollop of sour cream to each. She was uncomfortably avoiding Kyle’s gaze but it was becoming increasingly difficult now that he was watching over her shoulder.

Kyle, himself, also didn't know what to do in this situation. On one hand he did not want to offend this girl that he likes but on the other the enchiladas were seriously bothering him and he just didn't know why.

“These, uh, these don’t look like enchiladas. I mean, I’ve eaten my fair share and I know enchiladas but these... now, I don’t want to sound rude or anything but, uh, where did you learn to make them like this?”

Zena watched it all happen. She knew Kyle was a doofus but this was one major mistake on his part. She watched as Maya looked from her pan and into Kyle’s eyes, then immediately walked past him and everyone else in her apartment and straight into her room. Zena winced on the inside. Her exterior remained unchanged as she just stared at Kyle, the others doing the same.

“Maya grew up in a group home. Everything she makes is scaled down version of a big batch recipe. Nice going Kyle. Let’s eat.”

It wasn’t necessarily what Kyle had said that made her want to hide away in her room but it was a chance to excuse herself from the situation and Kyle. Her past, or, the past she had shared with her friends, wasn’t something she was ashamed of or particularly avoided and she knew he didn’t mean to sound like he was bragging that he had a more well-rounded childhood than her but it definitely could have been taken that way. She just couldn’t deal with any of that right now. Not on top of these feelings she was also trying to suppress. In her room she could deal with anything. There was no one there but her and her thoughts. And her blankets. And a laptop. Distractions. That is what Maya wanted right now. Any sort of distractions.

She heard a knock at her door. Her laptop was still playing a video but she must have fallen asleep. The door creeped open and Abby poked her head inside.

“You all right?”

“Yea.”

“I’m sure he didn’t mean anything…”

“No, it wasn’t that. I mean, it wasn’t just that. That just tipped the scales a bit. This has been a week.”

“Want to talk about it?” Abby asked, moving over to Maya’s bed, sitting next to her friend.

“Not really. It’ll pass.”

“And anime is the answer?” She asked pointing at Maya’s laptop.

“Anime is always the answer.”

“Hey, you want to see something freaky?”

“Not really.” But Abby had already grabbed the laptop and started typing. A video started playing and Maya’s eyes got big. It was her. It didn’t look like her but she knew it was. She knew because she was there. She remembers. Her hair was tucked away and she was wearing big sunglasses and she was standing in front of a girl behind a car. There was a flash and the car drove off. The woman behind her backed up in shock and a disguised Maya ran off out of view of the camera. Once again Maya’s thought about the spent bullet in her trash can just feet away from the bed she and Abby were sitting on.

“Crazy right? That was right down the street from here. What was that?”

It was her.

11.   The Gray Dream

Maya squinted in the distance and had to put her hand over her eyes to take in the view around her. She was back in the field. The field that haunts her dreams. But this was different. Usually when Maya dreams of this day she is stuck in her body, unable to change the events of this day. But here, now she was standing in the middle of the field, her present self, with full control over her body. This isn’t right, she thought. Maya looked around her. The sky was gray, the grass was gray. Everything was gray. Everything was wrong. She shuffled her feet and lightly kicked the gray grass leaving a muffled crunching sound floating the air. It sounded as if she had her fingers in her ears. She tugged at her ears trying to fix the sound, hoping her ears would pop and everything would return to normal but it was still quiet. She bent down to run her fingers over the ground but instead of finding healthy grass she instead felt a brittle grass that instantly resumed where it was once her hand had passed over it. Standing back up, her eyes moved to the sky. The sun was hanging above her, showering everything in its eerie white light. Maya’s eyes were still trying to adjust to it. Even with the world made of different shades of gray shadows seemed to be nonexistent. What is this? Why am I here?  She took a few steps forward, trying to remember where everything was. She wasn’t used to seeing this day from this angle. The memory of her trip up here came and went as it pleased, sometimes returning to her in vivid detail but often throwing her into a panic as she struggled to even remember the faces of her parents. Where was the city? I remember I was facing the city when everything happened. I was on a hill. To her left she noticed the land slowly sloping upward. It wasn’t much of a hill but maybe to her childish eyes it seemed like a mountain. The crunch of her feet on the ground trailed behind her as she moved up the slop and noticed the horizon getting closer and closer, she looked back to where she came from and she had climbed much higher than she expected to. Maybe it really was a hill. It didn’t look so high from the field. Then she saw it. At the top of the hill she finally had a good view of her surroundings. Where she expected to see the city off in the distance she instead saw the blast that threw her into the air. It was bright. Brighter than the sun and frozen in place. An unmoving white fireball engulfing her entire field of vision. What is this? Turning back to look at where she came from she noticed something hanging in the air. Her younger self stuck in place. This is definitely strange. Circling her younger self Maya wondered why now. Her dreams about this were normally nightmares, thoughts that continued to haunt her well into her adult life. Why are things suddenly so different? What purpose could this dream possibly have? The air was eerily calm as she sat on the grass below her suspended body, she began to pat the stiff grass just to break the silence. Her dreams usually ended at the highest point of panic but nothing here caused her to feel even remotely afraid. She had never had a boring dream before. Maya could not even keep track of the passing of the time, the sun still hung in the sky, slightly dulled by the frozen explosion behind her but still unmoving. Despite her traumatic experience here as a child, picnics were still a big part of Maya’s life. She, Abby, and Alice would often pack lunches and drive in whatever direction until they came upon the first park or open field they found once they began to get hungry. It was an exercise to break the temptation from living the rest of their lives in the same tiny neighborhood. They loved it there but complacency was their enemy. It was mostly Alice and Abby’s enemy, Maya had no problem cuddling up next to complacency and comfortably hiding away for the rest of her life but she often understood that following her friends on whatever adventures they had planned was probably healthier for her life in the long run. After they would eat Maya would lay in the grass and watch the clouds make their way across the sky, the sun darting in between them as it made its own journey towards the next day. Now she is laying in a bastardized version of her worst nightmare watching as things remain unmoving and motionless. Her gaze drifts back to the body hanging above her, dress and hair floating in the stillness of the wind. In her dreams it felt like she was flying through the air forever and had always assumed that to be an exaggeration brought on by her dream state but looking at herself now, twenty or so feet in the air, far enough away from the top of the hill and not even halfway to where she would land. Where I should land. Would I have even survived the impact if I had stayed here? Did crossing over somehow save my life? Then it hit her. Where exactly did she cross over? She sat straight up, bringing her gaze to the tree her parents had set up their picnic. She squinted and could just barely see it. A shimmer in the air. Like when you’re looking at the empty road on a hot summer day. Getting up, Maya made her way towards the tree. The crunch of the grass got louder and louder the closer she got and slightest of hums began to fill the air. This is it. This is where it happened. I wonder— Her outstretched hand inched closer and closer to the shimmer and the familiar sound of her alarm got louder and louder. No! Not now. Not yet! Her eyes open and she shot up in her bed. What. Was. That?

12.   This Is Not What I Need Right Now

This was never going to work. It had taken her years but Maya had learned to live with her nightmares, they have just been affecting her far more than they used to these past few weeks. Looking around her room, closet open, belongings scattered, she realized it had also been a while since she cleaned things up a bit. Just one more item to add to her always growing to do list.

“Morning!” Abby called from the kitchen when Maya finally left her room.

“Morning,” she responded, unenthused as she dumped the contents of her bag onto the dining room table. “Have you seen my keys?”

“God, Maya, you look terrible.”

“Thank you?”

“No, I mean … you know what I mean.”

“Yea, probably. I didn’t sleep too well.”

“Need some coffee?”

“What I need is to find my keys.” She ran her fingers through her hair, pulling it back frustration trying to remember where she had them last.

“Have you checked the floor? You always toss your bag on the floor when you come home, maybe they fell out.”

Maya darted back into her room, immediately returning with her arm in the air, keys in hand, triumphant and went to shove everything back into her bag.

“Sit down. Coffee’s almost ready.”

“Can’t. I don’t want to be late again. I’ll see you after, Abby. Thanks.”

“Alright. Bye.” She called after Maya as she quickly left the apartment.

 

She made it to work on time. Not that anyone would notice if she arrived late. Mags and Zena were taking care of one of their regular customers leaving Maya to handle the walk ins. She was disappointed to find that everything looked so pristine and perfect when she came in. She needed something to keep her mind busy. Anything to help her not think about last night’s dream, or that video of her catching a bullet with her bare hand. Or Kyle. Especially Kyle. Of all the reality shaking things going on in her life, Kyle was the one she wanted to avoid the most. Of course that is the one subject her mind keeps obsessively moving towards. The chiming of the bell of the front door wakes Maya from the spiral of emotions she was being pulled into. Thank you. Customers.

“One coffee and one best friend, I’ll waive the delivery fee just this once.”

“Abby. Thanks. You didn’t have to come all the way down here.”

“Yea, I kinda did. You’ve been out of it a lot lately. Like, more than usual. So spill, what’s been going on? Is it that Kyle kid? He didn’t know what he was saying last night. He felt super bad afterward.”

“No, it’s not that. I mean, it’s not just that. It wasn’t about what he said it’s just… I don’t know. He’s been around a lot lately and you know how I am around new people. I’m just … I’m just freaking out a little bit.”

Is it because he has a crush on you?” Abby smiled. “Because he totally does.”

“Can we not talk about this?” Maya said, hiding her face in her hands.

“You can’t keep running from how you feel, Maya.”

“Yes. I can. I mean, can’t it just wait a bit? It’s just one more thing on a long list of things I don’t want to deal with right now.”

“Look, I know you like to keep these things to yourself but you know you can come to me with anything, right?”

Can I though? Some things are just too weird. “Yea, I know.”

“That’s what we’re here for. Me and Alice. We’re your friends, we want what’s best for you and if Kyle isn’t what’s best for you, if you don’t like him or don’t want him hanging around then we can do something about that. You should have to deal with this kind of stuff by yourself. You are not alone,” Abby assured her, placing her hand over Maya’s. “And you don’t have to do something you don’t want to just for our sake. You don’t have to be afraid of hurting our feelings like that. You know that you come first, before anyone else in our lives.”

“Well, I mean, except your families.”

“You are family, Maya.”

“I’m not… I’m not afraid of hurting you guys like that. What I’m afraid of, what truly scares me is that I might actually like him and that’s just not what I want. At least not right now.”

This admittance makes Abby smile. Maya has never been one to open up too much, even to her closest friends so this little bit means so much to her.

“Shut up.” Maya tells her, smiling back.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“Ugh, why? This is not what I need right now.”

“Maybe it’s exactly what you need. Something to keep your mind off of everything else. Or, in this case, someone.”

“What am I going to do?” she wondered aloud, laying her head on the counter next to her half empty coffee.

“Say something.”

Maya shot up. “No. No no no no no.”

“Why not? It’s better than waiting and freaking out until he finally says something.”

“Is it though?”

“Look, I’m just surprised he hasn’t said anything yet.”

Abby is interrupted by the chime of the front door. Actual customers this time.

“Hi, welcome to Mags.” Maya called to them, stashing the cup Abby brought her underneath the counter.

“Alright, that’s my cue, I’ll see you later.”

“You off today.”

“All day.”

“Have fun.”

“Bye. Love you.”

Tell him? What was Abby thinking? That would not calm my mind. If anything, it would only make it worse. It already has. Now she was not only worried about what he may or may not say but now she was worried that she might unwittingly change her mind and say something as well. But if he asks me I can definitely turn him down. That’s the best case scenario. That would fix everything. Well, everything with Kyle. Hopefully.

13.   Things Will Always Be Weird

There is a very short list of people that can show up unannounced and it not bother Maya. That list ends at two: Abby and Alice. Or Alice and Abby. There is no correct order, they both mean just as much to Maya and even though she had known Abby just a bit longer, she still spent a large majority of her time with Alice in the time when she had first met her two closest friends. Abby’s appearance at Mag’s that morning made Maya feel infinitely better. Much like her books and movies and TV shows, she could always count on getting lost in her friends whenever there was something particularly troubling on her mind. Even though today she talked about some things she would have rather avoided, it did feel good to relieve some of the pressure that had built up inside of her. If she had known that opening up and talking to someone about this kind of stuff had this freeing feeling then she would have tried it years ago. At least with the guy stuff. She had no idea how she would even bring up the bullet catching stuff or her recent revelations from her strange dreams. Or how they would even react to them. Her mind keeps going back to the crumpled bullet at the bottom of her trash bin making her want to fold the entirety of her being inside of itself and hide. Hide forever. I need to do something about that bullet. She manages to tell herself in a brief moment of strength.

The day’s customers were just enough to keep her mind occupied but Maya knew that there were thoughts still stewing in the back of her head and that life would soon catch up to her. The knowledge that Zena would soon arrive to work peaked in at her whenever there was a break in her distractions and little bits of dread slipped through the cracks to the forefront of her mind. It was Zena, in an uncharacteristically sincere moment, who spoke up when she first saw that spark between Maya and Kyle. Zena had known Kyle most of her life, and while she did enjoy giving him a hard time, she truly did consider him a friend and knew enough about him for Maya to trust her judgement. She was also present at last night’s meltdown, another recent even in Maya’s life that she would rather not revisit and, unlike Maya, Zena was never one to avoid a conversation.

“Have you been outside? It is the worst.” Zena yelled after checking that the store was clear of any customers and walked past Maya without even giving her a hello. This was common for the two of them, Maya likes to avoid interactions if at all possible and Zena abhors pleasantries so Maya just smiled and looked outside to see a calm, sunny afternoon. Zena and Maya could not be two more different people.

“I should have brought an umbrella.”

You could try wearing something other than black. Maya wanted to reply but obviously kept her comments to herself. If it wasn’t one of her many black dresses, Zena could be found wearing any combination of other black garments. It was definitely her color of choice when it came to her attire, very rarely would it be accented with any other color.

The day moved on and the moment had come and gone for Zena to say anything to Maya about the previous night as Maya’s shift came to an end but before her anxiety could be alleviated the absolute worst thing in her mind that could happen did. She was ready to leave, for her day to be over, anxious, even, to get home, bury herself in blankets, and lose herself on her laptop, aimlessly browsing at first and then settling into a long stretch of binging whatever caught her eye but her daydreaming of her evening’s plans was interrupted by an all too familiar figure of the very person she was trying to ignore stepping through the door. She should have seen this coming but her over-obsessing of everything going on in her life seemed to forget the fact that Kyle had been rekindling his friendship with Lottie which included walking her to work whenever he wasn’t working himself. Dangit, Abby, give that boy more hours. Then, as if on cue, Abby trailed in behind them.

“Abby?! You’re back.”

“Yea, I thought I’d walk back to the apartment with you seeing as there’s some strange stuff going on on our streets as of late.”

Don’t remind me.

“And then, upon hearing of our worries, Kyle here even offered to escort us both home.”

Abby why?

Behind them Maya saw Zena smirk as she was stocking clothing rack at first trying to look busy while eavesdropping in on the drama she full well knew would unfold upon Kyle’s entrance. “But then who is going to protect Kyle?”

“What a gentlemen.” Lottie chimed in.

Were they all in on it? Maya was beginning to suspect something more was going on with her friends. She did not like how this day was going.

“Hey look Maya,” Kyle began. “About the other night, I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean…”

“No. It’s okay. It wasn’t you.” Maya wanted control of the situation. Diffuse things before they got worse. Redirect. Control. She wanted control of the conversation so she could avoid yet another scene. “It was everything else, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s okay, really.”

“Cool. We’re good then? I don’t want things to be weird between us.”

“Yea, we’re good.” But things with me will never not be weird.

Bullet catching was the least of her worries right now. How a simple boy could upset her world more than weird dreams, super powers, and different worlds was beyond even her. But at least with Kyle she could do something. She was in some sort of, even if just a little, control. Or at least try to be. Stifle her feelings. Hide from her emotions. Anything. She was desperate.

“You ready?” Abby asked, bringing Maya back from the void that was her thought processes.

“Yea…” She began to trail off, trying to remember if she truly was ready checking her bag for her keys and whatever else she may not wasn’t to leave behind at the store. At least Abby will be there. Maya was trying to think on the positive side of things. Hiding behind her more talkative friends was her go to strategy when dealing with conversations with strangers. But Kyle wasn’t necessarily a stranger. She may have been distracted by Abby’s performance at the show that night but a lot of what Kyle as talked about actually stuck with her. He liked art, both digital and traditional, and hoped to make a career out of it but was beaten down (his words, not hers) by the educational system. He had trouble with art on demand and while Maya recognized this as a fault, him lacking the discipline to act when needed, but she liked how he treasured the purity of his work and the passion he exuded when talking about it. Most of Maya’s own passions were consumption based, she liked to watch things, or listen to things, or read things but Kyle loved to create and she admired that about him. She didn’t like that she admired it. She didn’t like that she knew enough about him in the first place to admire anything about him. It made things far more complicated. It would me so much easier to push aside any thoughts about him if he was only a complete stranger or just a friend of a friend but she knew just enough for him to keep popping up in her thoughts and she was afraid that the longer he stuck around then the harder it would be for her to ignore those thoughts.

“Alright, let’s go.” Maya clung tightly with both hands to the strap on her bag, keeping her eyes on the ground as they walked down the sidewalk and towards her apartment making sure to stay several paces behind both Abby and Kyle, just enough to make it look like she wasn’t trying to avoid their conversation.

“So, Kyle, Superheroes. Real or fake?”

“Oh man. That’s tough. The realist in me says ‘no way. Either the video is fake or there’s something missing’ but the kid in me wants to believe it so so bad. What did you think of it?” He asks, turning to an obviously not paying attention Maya.

“Huh? What?”

“The bulletproof girl?” Abby reminds her.

“Oh. That.” Anything but that. “I don’t really know.” She says, finally looking up. “We’re here.

Maya picks up her pace and quickly passes Abby and Kyle, making her way into their apartment building without even saying goodbye. Freedom! She was so caught up in escaping Kyle that she instantly regretted not at least giving him a polite goodbye but there is no way she is going back out there to correct her mistake.

“I’ll talk to her.” Abby tells Kyle before heading in after her.

“Alright. See you guys tomorrow.”

“Bye”

Abby had to run to catch up with Maya who was already in the apartment. By the time Abby made it to the front door Maya was already closing the door to her room and she knew that once that door shut Maya would be locked away for the rest of the night.

“Maya, wait up.”

“Yes?”

“What are you doing tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow? Nothing. I’m off. Why?”

“We’re all going out to brunch, you should come along.”

Maya knew that when Abby said “all” that meant more than just her and Alice.

“All?”

“Yea. Me, Alice, and Kyle.”

Say no. Say no. Say no. A voice repeated inside of her.

“Yea, alright.” Why? Why did I just say that?

“See, getting out’ll be good for you.”

“Maybe”

Or maybe not.

14.   No.

Be-doop.

Her phone. Maya never set alarms for her days off. She always enjoyed waking up naturally whenever she could, to get the rest that her body required. Also she was lazy. Well, maybe not lazy but she was up all night. With no reason to wake up in the morning she could find no reason to necessarily go to sleep. Just one more episode, she kept telling herself barely even able to keep her eyes open.

Be-doop.

“Wwwwhhyyyy?” She groaned from beneath her pile of blankets. There was some shuffling somewhere beneath it all and then a lonely hand shot out blindly searching for the phone then retreating once more to the safety of her fortress once it was finally found.

“You up yet?” The text read. It was Abby.

Brunch! Maya shot up in her bed tossing the covers aside and quickly pulling herself together. She had completely forgotten that she had agreed to go out with them. It was probably the reason she just kept watching TV all night. Anything to keep her mind occupied and off of Kyle.

“I’m so sorry. I slept in. I—“ She started as she ran into the living room. But the room was unusually empty.

“Alice?” She called looking into her roommate’s room next to hers. Empty.

“Abby?” She looked down the hall to see Abby’s door open, also empty.

She checked her phone again. She had only read the first message when she woke up but the second one was still sitting there marked as unread.

“We’re not waiting around. Meet us at Elle’s.”

Elle’s was a café only two blocks from their apartment. She could make that in no time. She was just about to throw on whatever clothes she found first in her closet to head out and meet them when she caught sight of herself in the mirror on the wall between the two girl’s rooms and remembered Kyle. Oh no. This will definitely not do. Maya was never one to dress up unless the occasion called for it. She also didn’t want Kyle to affect the way she thought and acted but those desires quickly faded when she saw the mess of her hair taking up a good portion of the mirror in front of her. Alright, let’s make this quick.

Maya could see the patio of Elle’s from down the block but she didn’t see any of her friends. They would usually take up residence in the far corner outside the restaurant, free from the indoor noise yet still far enough away from the street. Sitting outside was also a perfect excuse for Maya to wear her sunglasses and avoid eye contact without looking too rude during their conversations. Maybe they’re waiting for me inside. But I did take my time. They wouldn’t wait that long would they? It wasn’t a long walk down the block but Maya’s brain worked in overtime all the time so any amount of time, no matter how short, gave her enough time to turn a perfectly ordinary situation into a worrisome mess in her head. As Maya walked inside she still saw no signs of her friends. But she did see Kyle. He was sitting in the waiting area fiddling with his phone so he didn’t see Maya walk in which gave her the perfect excuse to turn around and head back outside.

“Where are you at?” She added to their group text.

Be-doop. Immediately.

“We got caught up. Grab a table with Kyle, we’ll be there soon.”

Caught up? We live right around the corner. Maya was suspicious of just about everybody but she wasn’t used to feeling that way about her roommates. Her friends. She took a deep breath and turned around and headed back inside preparing herself to face her fears.

This time Kyle looked up when she entered. And he smiled. I can’t do this. She told herself yet willed her body to move forward.

“Let’s get a table.” She told Kyle, her sunglasses still on. She could face him but she still wasn’t prepared to make eye contact so she just looked past him. This just might work.

“Okay…” Kyle was unsure of what to think. He hadn’t known her for very long but he did know that Maya wasn’t usually this forward.

The waitress recognized Maya right away. She came here often. Sometimes with her roommates but also by herself but always sitting in the same area. The same table if at all possible though that wasn’t really that important to her. She was just a creature of habit. “Patio?”

“Yes please.” She could look the waitress in the eyes. That was never a problem. Even though she didn’t really know her she felt like she wasn’t just another stranger. The why is it so different with Kyle? She knew why but she still wasn’t ready to admit or even accept it.

Maya took her usual seat, back to the glass, facing the street. Kyle sat across from her an odd nervous look on his face. He wasn’t sure what to say next which was an unusual feeling for him. He had never lacked words before. But lucky for him it didn’t look like he was going to have to make the first move. She was looking right at him. Maybe she’s gonna say something. Kyle thought. But no. It wasn’t even him she was looking at. Past his head, standing on the corner across the street she saw them.

Be-doop. Her phone.

She knew who it was before she even looked at it.

“Sorry, we’re not gonna make it. Have fun. ;)”

And with that one text Maya was gone. Her phone in one hand and bag in the other, she took off through the gate the separated the patio from the sidewalk leaving Kyle behind. Those two was all she could think as a blind rage began to brew within her. She was having trouble processing these emotions. Anger definitely. She had never felt anger like this before. Frustration, yes, and annoyance, definitely but not an anger like this and never towards her two closest friends. Whenever she felt the tiniest bit angry she would normally just get quiet and wait for it to fade away. But this was different. This was a loud, fiery anger. An anger that burned to her very core. She could not believe that her friends, the people she trusts most in this world, would try to deceive her in such a way. But she didn’t even have time to process these things, to think things through. Her friends were right there across the street. They weren’t saying anything when she was walking towards her or if they were Maya could not hear them. She couldn’t hear anything. She was too focused on what had just happened and what they had tried to do to her that that she wasn’t paying any attention to her surroundings. She didn’t see the bus coming at her as she ran across the intersection. The driver didn’t see her angrily storming across the street. It wasn’t even moving that fast but it still knocked her off her feet as the driver slammed on the brakes.

“Oh my god, Maya!” One of her friends cried out. She couldn’t tell who.

Her vision went fuzzy and a dull hum was ringing in her ears. She sat up putting her head in her hands trying to collect herself. No. Not now.

The ringing had stopped and the fog in her head had started to clear by the time Alice and Abby made it to her, kneeling next to her checking for wounds.

No.

“Maya, don’t move.” Abby said.

No.

“No,” she was finally able to say aloud. I can’t deal with tis right now. Not this too. She noticed a crowd of people starting to gather made up of passersbys, restaurant goers, and bus passengers. And I definitely can’t do this here. So in typical Maya fashion she stood up, grabbed her dropped bag…

“Maya, no.” Alice said.

And ran.

“Maya!”

15.   It’s Me

Maya slammed the door behind her and fell backwards against it, sliding to the floor after rushing to the safety of her room. Her vision blurred and then focused again with every beat of her heart. She wanted to throw all of her things into a bag and start over somewhere else. She wanted to collapse against the door and never face the outside world again. She could do neither. She couldn’t bring herself to day anything. There was just too much going through her head right now. It was taking all of her energy just to process all of her thoughts. Everything quickly came back into focus when she heard the front door open.

“Maya?” Alice called. “You here?”

“Her door’s shut.” She heard Kyle say. Not him too. Not now.

“Her door’s always shut but where else would she go?”

“Mags?”

“Too many people.” Abby finally said, slowly approaching the door to Maya’s room. “Hey, Maya?” A certain sweetness added to her voice as she tapped on the door. It was one Maya heard often, Abby’s comforting voice, but never directed towards her. Even though they have been best friends for so long Maya still didn’t open up too much to her. “You okay?”

What was she supposed to do? She had never imagined this day would come. Her plan had always been to keep her secrets and bury the fear deep inside of her so her normal life could go on despite whatever was wrong with her. But she had been wrong. It was always just a distraction. Everything she had ever done had just been to give herself the illusion of a normal life. But she wasn’t normal and maybe now that everything was out in the open she would finally accept that. Well, almost everything. Her eyes were focused on the still unemptied trash can next to her desk cursing herself for not emptying it before now. Gathering her remaining courage she stood up and backed away from the door, opening it to face her friends. And Kyle.

“Are… are you all right?” Abby asked.

“Y-yea.”

Alice immediately hugged her. Maya wasn’t the hugging type but Alice didn’t care. She knew her friend needed her and nothing would get in the way of that. Not even Maya’s protests. But, for once, Maya did not try to wriggle her way out of the hug. She could see them clearly now faces red, tears in their eyes. Her friends.

“But how?”

“Abby!”

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be dismissive here but seriously, you were hit by a bus. A bus, Maya. And instead of letting us help you. Your friends. You ran. From us, Maya. You ran from us. We’re the power duo, remember?”

“Trio.” Chimed in Alice, still embracing Maya. “But seriously.”

Maya moved her gaze from Abby to the trash can once more and broke Alice’s embrace as she began digging past discarded scraps of paper until finding what she was looking for. The bullet. She placed it in Abby’s hand and took a step back, avoiding everyone’s gaze. Worried. Anxious. She just wanted all of this to be over. Abby opened her hand and looked as the crumpled bullet Maya had handed her.

“Maya what is this?”

“It’s me.” She began, unable to come up with a better explanation. “From the video. I’m the bulletproof girl.”

There was a long silence. Her words were still hanging in the air and her eyes were on the ground. She was not yet ready to see the reaction on her friend’s faces. Maya didn’t know what else to say. She was afraid of any questions they might ask her. Questions she did not have the answers to.

“Uh, maybe I should leave.” Kyle said finally, breaking the silence in the room.

“Yea, that would probably be for the best.” Abby’s voice made Maya look up. She had never seen Abby’s face look so cold. “I’ll show you out.”

“I think I can man—“

I’ll show you out.” Abby insisted. “Let’s go.” She said as she grabbed Kyle by the arm and led him out of the apartment.

Alice, on the other hand, didn’t look shocked at all. She had on her sad, teary eyed face on and Maya just knew she was in for another hug. She was right. Once the door closed behind Abby and Kyle Alice wrapped her arms around Maya even tighter than before. This time Maya hugged her back. Not as tight but more than she would when she was only being polite. This time she meant it.

“I think Abby is mad at me.” Maya choked out between the tears. She hadn’t realized that she had started to cry but it didn’t come as too much of a surprise. She knows that she needs her friends and the fear that Abby and Alice learning about her would push them away was more present than ever.

 

Abby did not let go of Kyle’s arm as she led him out of the apartment. She did not let go of his arm as she led him down the stairs. And she didn’t let go of his arm as they approached the door to the building. Just before Kyle made it outside Abby turned him around, pushed him up against the wall, and looked him dead in the eyes.

“You DO NOT talk about this with anyone.”

“I won’t I prom--“

“You don’t walk about this with Lottie. You don’t talk about this with Zena. You don’t talk about this with your wonderful little grandmother.”

“Look I --“

“I don’t want you to talk about this with ANYONE. Do you understand?”

“I understand.” Kyle finally said, eyes lowered to the floor. Abby was almost a head shorter than Kyle but she was in absolute control of this conversation.

“And you definitely do not talk to Maya without talking to me first, you got that?”

“Yea, I got it.” Kyle knew Abby was only trying to protect her friend but he thought he was their friend too. He knew that there were probably personal things he should not be involved with and maybe this was one of them but being told that he can’t even talk to Maya without someone else’s permission, that hurt.

“Alright, I’ll see you around Kyle.”

“See ya.” He said as he left, still avoiding eye contact with Abby. His day could not get any crazier but he knew his brain was not going to let this go.

16.   What Now?

Everything is scary. Maya used to be afraid of what her friends would think of her when they found out about her. Now she was afraid because she didn’t know what was coming next. In all of her imagined scenarios she never expected them to accept her. She knew they were her friends and that they loved her but she always assumed there was a limit to that love. That at any moment something would happen that would end it all. Years of friendship, all of the good times, it would all be over. And she always thought that something to ruin it all would be her. In some way or another, whether it was something she did, something she said, or the truth about her being exposed. Or maybe they would wake up one day and realize that she just wasn’t worth it. But that isn’t what happened at all. She was accepted. Just the way she was. Every fault. Every failure. Every unexplained mystery about her past. They accepted her. They love her. It was a relief but also a burden. Her plan had always been to run but now that was off the table. What now?

Abby walked back into the apartment seeing tears on Maya and Alice’s faces, their hands still intertwined.

“What now?”

END OF PART ONE