8 – Friday

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June 9 2016 1 22 31_split_The_split_

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 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.”

“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.

NEXT CHAPTER

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7 – They Always Do

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June 9 2016 1 22 31_split_The_split_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.

NEXT CHAPTER

Abby

Here’s something different. I took a break from the main story for a bit to write some character backgrounds. This is going to be inserted somewhere early in the story, definitely before the concert. SO here, for your reading pleasure, is the very first time Maya meets Abby.

June 9 2016 1 22 31_split_The_split_Of course Maya was the first to arrive. She wasn’t a fan of long goodbyes and there weren’t really that many people to say goodbye to anyway. Most were there out of obligation, including Maya herself. She would miss her foster parents a bit and she had become quite accustomed to helping out with the other kids there but so many of them rotated in and out that she didn’t form a strong bond with many of them. Maya was there the longest and she didn’t mind. She accepted that this was what life had handed her and she was not going to let that bring her down. She also learned that things in life won’t just be handed to her. She would have to work for them. So when the prospect of graduating early came up she followed through on everything she needed to do to further her education. College was that next step. This was also the first time she has been on her own her entire life. Well, not quite on her own. Her roommate should be showing up any time now. But the hours ticked by and Maya had finished unpacking all of her things. She didn’t have much but she had scrounged up enough cash to buy some dorm room basics, bedding, a small trash can, lamp, foldable laundry hamper, tubs of various size for storing things under the bed or by the her desk. Scholarships and grants covered her school supplies, books, and a moderately priced laptop.

Hours passed by and while Maya could have spent that time taking one of the many freshmen tours of the campus she felt she hardly needed it, having memorized most of the buildings on her visit the previous year. So she sat quietly on her bed, flipping aimlessly through a book she had read time and time again waiting for the rest of her life to begin.

She must have nodded off because when she woke up the room was dark and she heard a loud bang.

“Ow, desk.” Came a whispered cry on the other side of the room.

She leaned over to turn on the floor lamp between her bed and desk.

“Oh, hey there.”

She was unexpectedly stunning, the girl across the room staring at her like a deer in the headlights. Tight black jeans, a plain white t-shirt and a black leather jacket it was entirely too warm outside for anyone to be wearing. Her hair was done and make up immaculate. A stark contrast the sweatpants and hoodie clad girls she had seen roaming the halls earlier in the day.

“Are you Abbigail?” Maya asked, wiping the unexpected sleep from her eyes.

“Abby. Yea. You’re Maya, I’m guessing. Sorry to wake you.”

“I thought you’d be here earlier.”

“Oh, I got here this morning. Dropped off my stuff and went exploring.

“Your stuff?” Maya was confused, not just because she had just woken up but because the opposite side of the dorm room was just as bare as it was when she first got here.

“Yea,” Abby went to the closet opposite of Maya’s and opened it, revealing a single duffel bag and a guitar case. She hauled the duffel out of her closet, obviously struggling with the overstuffed bag letting out an “oompf” as she dropped it onto her bed. Pulling off her jacket and tossing it perfectly onto the chair of her desk she reached into her bag a grabbed a blanket, sweatshirt, and toiletry bag then promptly shoved it off the edge of her bed, letting it fall perfectly between the bed and desk. With one large shove with her leg the bag then found itself jammed underneath her bed.

“There. Unpacked. I’ll sort everything else out tomorrow.”

“Don’t you have classes tomorrow?”

“Yea, but there’s plenty of time for both. Imma go wash up then hit the sack. Nice to finally meet you Maya. We’re gonna change the world, I can just feel it.”

With that she walked out of the room leaving Maya stunned. She was unsure of what she thought about this new addition to her life. And there was definitely no way she would have believed this woman become one of her longtime best friends. When she awoke the next morning the bed across the room was empty once again and she wondered if the whole affair had been some strange dream brought on by her new situation but then she saw Abby’s bag sticking halfway out from under her bed. She always knew change could be good but she was afraid that too much change was something she was wholly unprepared for.

It was astonishing the progress their friendship made in only a few weeks. Maya had never been too good at making friends and Abby was always attracting followers instead of friends it was a nice change of pace to have someone to truly confide in. Their conversations were slow at first. They didn’t talk about music, they didn’t talk about movies or books. They didn’t even talk about classes. They didn’t have a thing in common except for this space that they shared. But that was all they needed. Casual hellos turned into recaps of the day whether dull or exciting. Occasionally something would remind one of them of something that happened to them in the past and they would talk about that or basic moral beliefs. They found each other genuinely interesting but still didn’t see each other outside of their tiny dorm room. After much poking and prodding, Abby finally convinced Maya to go out with her and her other friends. She was them for coffee and Maya could not come up with an excuse fast enough to deter her. So she sat there in silence while the crowd around her told their stories and laughed. Every so often someone would ask Maya a question and she would politely answer but add nothing more to the conversation. This was not her thing. Afterward Abby asked her what she thought and of course Maya lied. “It was fun,” she said but the next few times that Abby asked her to go out with them again she quickly turned her down. Their conversations seemed to stall as well.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Abby finally asked one day, tired of Maya always redirecting their conversations into dead ends.

“Nothing. Why, what’s up?” She didn’t even look up from her book. She knew what was coming and all she wanted to do was avoid it.

“You’ve been … I don’t know, distant ever since you came out with us that one time. What’s going on? Did someone say something to you?”

“No, it’s not that. It’s just…” she trailed off. Maya didn’t know what to say. This wasn’t something she was used to. She didn’t have a plan for a situation like this. She had words but she knew they were the wrong ones. She didn’t want to hurt anyone but that seems unavoidable right now.

“What?”

“It’s just that I’ve seen what your real friends are like and we’re very different people. Too different. Those are the people you’re supposed to be with. Not me. I was just tagging along.”

Abby grabbed Maya by the shoulders, forcing her to make eye contact with her. “Look at me Maya, they’re the tagalongs. We’re the power duo. They’ve got nothing on us.”

And she was right. They have been unstoppable ever since.

6 – There May Be No Running From This One

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June 9 2016 1 22 31_split_The_split_“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 move 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 probs, 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.

NEXT CHAPTER

5 – Uncomfortable

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June 9 2016 1 22 31_split_The_split_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.”

“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 northing 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.

NEXT CHAPTER

4 – This Just Might Work

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June 9 2016 1 22 31_split_The_split_

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.

NEXT CHAPTER

3 – Flannel

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June 9 2016 1 22 31_split_The_split_Abby had been in a variety of bands throughout her 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, loose fitting yet still attractive clothes 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…”

“Deets 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. Especially boys. 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. And then the music began to play.

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