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?”
“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 work big man.”
With that Maya extricated 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 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.”
“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.
- Never approach him, or go near him, or maybe even any room he may be in.
- Avoid eye contact at all cost.
- Always use the buddy system.
- Limit any unavoidable interactions with singly syllable responses.
“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?”
“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.