Operators Are Standing By

I’m okay with everything but nothingness.

Nothing is more significant than everything.

Life is a cathedral and I’m on the tire swing.

The never-ending battle for peace can’t be won

or everything we love comes undone.

Rules and conventions are just steam in the machine.

Operators are standing by.

 

 

Sarah McLachlan: Support the Arts

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I’m terrified of anticipation. I always feel like I’m in the middle of a movie where any potential happiness is foreshadowing the protagonist’s inevitable down-slide into misery. Maybe I take my job as a writer too seriously and forget that art doesn’t always imitate life and vice versa. Or maybe as a poor kid from Ohio I’ve just dealt with a lot of shit. It feels scary to want something when disappointment, even tragedy, might be on the line if I’m rewarded.

So when my partner told me that my favorite musician was playing that night, and close by, I smiled and nodded. A half-hearted, “Oh, that’s cool,” while the weight in my chest told me it’s futile to hope. We had our day planned out already. We were going to a light parade to celebrate Pride. Sarah McLachlan was a novel idea, but it cost money and we already had the supplies we needed for the celebration that night. After the massacre at Pulse, I’ve been feeling like showing a little of my rainbow to the world.

“Actually, I got the dates wrong. The light parade’s tomorrow,” she tells me.

I pause for a moment and allow myself to feel the first little tugging of what looks a lot like fate; another plot device I use in my work but don’t generally apply to my own life.

“It says there will be three special performers with her,” my partner goes on. “But I can’t see any more with my stupid phone. We should look online.”

Now I’m intrigued. Who else could be playing? I go to my computer and try to find out, but it’s vague. My partner tells me to check the seats still available and I wonder what the point is. It’s not like it will change anything if there are front row seats available. We’re not going anywhere. Things like this don’t happen in my life.

Soon, my partner is beside me and I’m swept up in a whirlwind of activity. We’re looking at a blueprint of the venue and watching each little circle going from blue to white as the seats disappear. I want to close the website. I want to be realistic.

“Look, these ones are the cheapest,” I say, playing along as if we’d actually do something so impulsive.

“No, check the front rows!”

I don’t see how this is feasible. Doesn’t it cost too much? Why bother getting my hopes up at all?

“Get those ones!” she exclaims. I tell myself she’s just being competitive and click two seats. Before I know it, we are on a rapid-fire mission to check out with our tickets before the five-minute expiry leaves our seats open to other people.

I’m staring in shock at the check-out page on the screen. It’s telling me that I am going to see Sarah McLachlan as if it’s the most normal thing in the world.  I suddenly realize that my partner has pushed me through. She didn’t let me talk her out of it. She didn’t let me settle for terrible, cheap seats in the back of the venue. She ran to get her wallet and now I am going to spend the evening beside the person I love most in the world listening to my favorite musician. I never believed I would.

About now is when I cry.

I’m surprised though, when I realize that I’m not just crying tears of joy. Suddenly, I’m about 10, 11, 12 years old again. I’m smiling radiantly at a young man my parents know from California. His name is Mike.

“Does he know Nikki died?” I ask my mom when she tells me he’s going to visit. I worry he might not want to come anymore if my brother isn’t there. Her face falls.

“Yeah,” she says.

“Did he cry?”

My mother is quiet for a moment, pain in every line of her face. She looks small, dwarfed by the middle part of a sectional whose corner has been reassigned as a computer chair. I feel bad bringing up the death of my seven-year-old brother, but I have to know.

“Yeah, he did.”

I nod. If he cried too, then it’s okay if he comes. I don’t want to talk to anyone who can’t understand what we’ve lost.

This moment is ancient history when Mike is in front of me; an exotic specimen from across the country. My brothers and I have always liked him; he’s funny. Our mom taught us a keyboard command to say we are blowing bubbles in the chat room where they met, and Mike, (FruitGod, but we called him Fruity) would claim to eat them. He is a child psychologist and he has a t-Rex in his office. Now that he’s here, we expect more fun.

He doesn’t disappoint and I’m back to beaming when he hands me a present. It’s a portable CD player. Possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Streamlined and silver, with little grey buttons and a clear window where I can watch my CDs spin. It even came with my own perfect pair headphones; black and spongy. He also gives me a disc. It’s a burnt copy of “Surfacing.”

Here is where I apologize to Sarah McLachlan and tell her that since then I’ve bought several copies of her CDs and to please not arrest Fruity for saving my life.

My dad, a musician who hasn’t heard much of her music, instantly tears into the gift.

“Sarah McLachlan? Isn’t she a lesbian?”

“She isn’t a lesbian,” Fruity says firmly. I can tell he’s embarrassed. “She’s married to her drummer.”

“Are you sure, man? Have you seen her?”

My dad heads to the internet to battle his point and I instantly tune them out as they start bickering. I wouldn’t care if she was an alien. This is the first music that is actually mine and I can’t wait to listen to it.

I don’t know how Mike knew to choose her CD of all things, but it is profoundly soothing. Her voice is like the cool aloe-vera gel my grandma puts on our sunburns. A Band-Aid on an aching soul. I didn’t know how much it hurt until it started to feel better.

After Mike leaves, home is the same as usual. Quiet, with just the clicking of my parent’s keyboards to fill the voids. My brother and I do whatever we can to distract ourselves as the world we are used to falls apart. For me, this means reading devotedly and listening to my CD, singing off-key with my headphones on and eliciting complaints from my brother.

From then on, whenever I see Sarah McLachlan on VH1 or MTV, I beg whoever has the remote not to change the channel. Even my great-grandparents are happy to listen to her.

My great-grandpa finds salvation listening to Adia, singing off-key and jumbling up the words, and I find the strength and courage to forgive him for violating me from the same song. I make him a tape of the CD and write the lyrics to Adia for him. At the end of the tape, there is space left, so I record it on repeat so he won’t have to rewind it. Because I love him. And because I know he needs to remember innocence.

Sorry again, Sarah.

Fast forward to high school, where everything hurts no matter who you are. Her music is still the most soothing, even though my tastes have grown eclectic and angry. There is still familiarity and comfort in her voice. When I put in my (store-bought) version of “Mirrorball” I can still remember who I was before tragedy turned my life upside down, and I am reminded that things will be okay. Even in heartbreak, beauty can gradually be found.

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I am not some kind of super alpha-omega fan of Sarah McLachlan. I know nothing about her, I’ve never owned a poster, and I don’t expect she would want to know anything about me. But her music has gone with me on a rocky journey.

I’m actually afraid she might have become jaded at some point in her long career to the impact of her music. Who has an easy time believing anything they create is all that special? In my experience, after so much praise and direction from other people, it starts to feel hollow. As a writer there are times I feel like once people are a fan of yours or want you to perform a certain way, it can seem like you could vomit just about anything onto the page and people would still find value in it, even if you don’t.

It makes people’s praise and dedication almost feel false. But it isn’t. It’s a testament to the power of creation and an homage to those who are bold enough to try. Even when it’s hard. It’s scary to build something meaningful. Or to build something at all. People are terrified of being honest and putting themselves out there. And even if it looks easy, it’s hard. But working in a field of creation and pursuing the arts, there is nothing else you can do if you want to succeed. You have to expose the deepest parts of yourself to perfect strangers and hope for the best. You have to be brave.

I want to say I am not a fan of Sarah McLachlan as a person, because I will never truly know her as a person. I’m a fan of her music because I’m a fan of creation. She has to be strong and brave enough to put herself out there even when it feels false. And even if a little me wasn’t yet able to relate to the messages of heartbreak and forgiveness in the same context as they were written, she was still able to put something out there for me to find.

Maybe if Fruity had given me a different CD this would be about somebody else. But it just so happens that Sarah McLachlan’s creations were a huge boon to a little girl who was drowning. And it was something she could share with her family. Such is the power of music.

At the concert, there were two empty seats in front of me. They stayed empty through the first couple of songs and I selfishly hoped with everything I had that nobody would sit there. I had an amazing view either way, but I thought the empty seats would make it perfect. In the middle of the third song, an elderly woman and her daughter eventually filled them. The woman in front of me bobbed her grey head to the music and was visibly basking in every second of it. It was startling and moving. She reminded me of my grandfather. I think it was the third time I cried.

My great-grandparents were like a second set of parents to my brother and I. They saw us through some of the hardest transitions of our lives. I was stricken by how beautiful it is that Sarah McLachlan’s music can even touch those later in life when contemporary music leaves most from outside of this generation cold. Her themes are universal, and I was reminded of my grandfather’s misty-eyed off-key singing.  Not far behind those memories was the beauty of Sarah’s smooth, soulful voice sending him off at his funeral, exactly as he would have wanted.

Even without ever knowing Sarah McLachlan, it is music and books, creation and the arts in general, that helped me find a sanctuary to gather up my broken pieces so I could make it through some of the biggest challenges in my life. I can’t thank the people who impacted my life enough, and hope to encourage everyone to do the one thing that Sarah seems to find the most important; supporting the arts.

I’m writing this not as a fan of Sarah McLachlan, but as someone who knows very personally the profound effect music can have on the soul. I survived. It’s not thanks to Sarah, or even her music. It’s thanks to the courage it takes one soul to create something that can impact millions of others. It’s thanks to the bravery we can find and gather when we see it originating in somebody else and shared unselfishly, even if it comes from a place of pain and insecurity.

Please, support the arts. Keep them in your schools. Don’t let them be the first to go. There are millions of ways we can help other people, but by teaching and appreciating the arts, we can teach children how to help themselves. We can teach and learn how to survive in a healthy way. When we know how to create, we can all be brave and walk through the storm. Not only that, but we can bend the lightning and single-handedly create something powerful as a testament to our resilience.

Support the arts. And check out the Sarah McLachlan School of Music.

Zina unSeen – Chapter 26

“Sir! We have new intelligence on Agent 451’s whereabouts.”

Mr. Brown looked up from his desk sharply.

“You know where Dean is?” he asked.

“No, but we’re afraid the conversation with his mother about meeting further west was a ruse. We’ve noticed suspicious new activity on the profile of the woman he was previously assigned to. She’s befriended someone called ‘D.’ Our agents have been looking into the details of the profile’s owner, and it was begun in Agent 451’s home state.”

“Do you have photo evidence?”

“None as of yet, sir. But we know where he’s heading.”

“Great,” Mr. Brown said gruffly. “Out with it.”

“He is heading back to the city. Should we consider him armed and dangerous?”

“Dean? I highly doubt that. Is he on foot?”

“No sir, according to a FaceSpace private messenger conversation with his former user, he is on his way back to the city via bus.”

“Bus?” Mr. Brown said incredulously.

“I know it’s odd sir, but considering the agent’s situation, it’s possible he has suffered some sort of mental break.”

“I’d say it’s likely,” Mr. Brown said with a frown. “When is his bus due to arrive?”

“There’s no way of telling. We don’t even know which bus line he will be on.”

“I want an agent deployed at every bus station in the city. Make sure they all have their target’s face memorized. If you find him, bring him here and we’ll deal with the matter quietly.”

“Of course, sir.”

“Send them into the common room to be briefed.”

“Of course, right away.”

“Agent?” Mr. Brown called as the man hurried toward the door.

“Yes, sir?” he asked, turning around.

“Handle this delicately. There’s a chance that he is still a friend of FaceSpace, and there’s a chance that he is now our enemy. Take no definitive action until you know whether he is friend or foe. Be careful in your manner of speaking. If you can negotiate with him and sway him to come with us willingly, do so. We don’t want him turning against FaceSpace. He knows too much, and if we just get him back here in one piece we may still be able to use him. He is very valuable to the operation, and this may just be a case of puppy love gone too far. FaceSpace is like the parent of a rebellious teenager. Deal with this accordingly.”

“Do you have any suggestions about how to communicate with him, sir?”

“I’d like to speak with him personally,” Mr. Brown said, clearing his throat importantly. “I always felt we had something of a repertoire. But since I can’t be there to stake him out, alert me the moment you discover his whereabouts. And if that doesn’t work, I want to make sure our most diplomatic agents are available. Assign those who have tested with an unusually high emotional intelligence and brief them immediately.”

“Right away, sir.”

“You’re dismissed.”

Mr. Brown turned his swivel chair to face the large windows in his office. It was a shame that it had come to this. He didn’t want to harm Dean, but he would rather have him working at FaceSpace as a paper pusher or a custodial worker than to release him onto the street in his state of mind. The poor man would end up raving like a lunatic, waving a cardboard sign about how the end was nigh and FaceSpace would one day rule them all.

While the assertion was preposterous, it was still a form of bad press that should be avoided at all costs. Whether people liked it or not, the ravings of the deeply depraved often followed them wherever they went, sometimes burying suspicions and paranoia deep in the heart of even the soundest thinker. FaceSpace couldn’t afford skepticism. Not when it was about to seal the most important deal in history. The situation with Dean would have to be rectified immediately.

Mr. Brown sighed and leaned back in his chair. If only he hadn’t allowed Dean to go on vacation. But who was he fooling? He had been a ticking timebomb from the start.

Zina unSeen – Chapter 25

When Zina knocked on Lain’s door, still feeling unnerved by D’s strange comment, the door swung easily on its hinges and revealed the bedroom to be empty. Zina wandered in, glancing around, hoping against hope that Lain might be hiding or crouched behind her bed for some reason. She called her name, but there was no answer. Zina’s heart sank.

She shuffled from room to room, hoping that Lain would answer her calls. She soon realized with a heavy weight that she was alone in the apartment. Zina glanced up at the wall clock and inhaled sharply, realizing that it was Thursday. Lain would be at band practice and probably wouldn’t return for hours. Maybe even the rest of the night. She would have to handle this on her own.

She dawdled in the kitchen, putting a tea kettle on the stove and grabbing a snack. She puttered around, organizing the shelves of the refrigerator before the tea was ready and she returned to her bedroom. She ate slowly, staring at the screen where Dean’s message sprawled in front of her. Then she noticed something strange. He was visible online. Normally he just wrote and ran. They had never had a conversation in real time.

Zina gulped down a hot sip of tea, and with shaking hands she clicked on D’s picture. A dialogue bubble popped up, and she began to type. Her heart was thudding in her chest, but she ignored it. There was probably some rational explanation.

Zina: I haven’t said that phrase since we began talking. How did you know I say that?

An elipses appeared on the screen as D. dictated a response. It took an unusually long time for the tiny sentence that finally appeared on the screen.

D: I think you wrote it on a comment that Roy liked.

Zina considered this thoughtfully. She did use the phrase a lot. It would be no big deal if he had read it and it stuck out in his mind. The elipses appeared again, and her thudding heart began to slow. She watched in anticipation as he wrote, until finally she could read it.

D: It’s one of the things I first noticed about you. It was like someone was finally speaking a language I understood.

Zina sighed. That made sense. It would stick out in his head if it was what drew his attention to her in the first place. She laughed at herself for the strange acceleration of paranoia she had experienced. Her breathing returned to normal and she shook her head. She hadn’t noticed it had become so constricted.

Zina: Oh, I see. This is strange. I don’t usually use the messenger on FaceSpace. I’ve heard rumors that they track what you write if you use it and can sell you out to the FBI.

There was a long pause before the elipses appeared. It disappeared briefly and then appeared again. Zina pursed her lips impatiently.

D: I’ve heard that before. Do you have something to hide?

The irony of him asking her if she had anything to hide nearly made her laugh out loud. She began to feel annoyed toward Lain for filling her with ridiculous doubts. Her annoyance fully eased her doubts about D. and she relaxed. They had been talking this long, why not just enjoy it while she could? You learned a lot more about a person during a real time conversation, so that’s what she was going to do.

Zina: Not exactly, but I don’t want to be vulnerable to the wrong people either.

D: That’s understandable.

Speaking to him in real time was much slower than she had thought it would be. Almost boring, really. He didn’t carry the same spark that the emails seemed to have, and she found herself losing interest quickly. Maybe he was tired or something. Still, tired or not, D. continued talking.

D: Guess where I am.

Zina: If you say “outside my window” I’m going to kill you.

D: ha-ha. No. I’m taking the easy way out and riding the bus back to the city. I’m passing a herd of cows right now.

Zina: You must be getting close to home.

The elipses appeared briefly, then disappeared again. She waited for a few beats before finally, his message appeared on the screen.

D: Yes.

Zina unSeen – Chapter 24

Dean reclined uncomfortably in the stiff bus seat. He was taking the Mustang bus services the rest of the way back to the city. He was close enough now that he didn’t think the agents would catch him, and had purposely called his mother with misinformation about where he would be heading. The woman had wisely played along, even giving him an address for some cousins who were in the neighborhood who could help him with a place to stay and nice southern hospitality. He had bought a large pair of glasses and a scarf, hoping to conceal his identity. He had covered the outside of his suitcase with newspaper and traded coats with a homeless man so that nobody would recognize him if they saw him. He wasn’t sure how long it would be until FaceSpace knew where he was, but he had to act fast. Hopefully the false lead would give him the time he needed to reach Zina.

He stared in anticipation at the message he had sent to her, and soon received a notification that she had read the message. Sometimes it took her an hour to dictate a long and detailed response, and these letters were the highlight of his life. He cherished every word, reading them slowly again and again, memorizing every tidbit about herself that she had revealed only to him. Because she felt he could understand her. Because he did, of course. He knew everything about her. The proof of that was in his suitcase.

It was taking her a long time to reply to his message, so he glanced slowly around the bus at the people around him. Normally, they were the types he wouldn’t give a second glance to, but now they fascinated him. The man in front of him was disheveled and smelled terrible, but D. wouldn’t risk moving his seat. Besides, he wanted to fit in with the riff-raff. It would make it harder to spot him. FaceSpace was used to him being crisp and tidy, punctual and even a little bit germophobic. They would have him profiled, just as they had most of their users profiled, and a seedy man sitting near a drifter would not be Dean’s profile.

Dean began to fidget. He could clearly see that she was online, but the little pencil indicating that she was typing to him wasn’t wiggling. What in the world was she doing that was so important that she couldn’t take two seconds out of her day to respond to him? He was getting anxious. Of course, he also admired her for having such creativity. Maybe she was in the middle of a project, working with Gwen was it? And simply couldn’t wait to hear from him and had chosen to read his message for her daily fix. That would be fine. But still, he hated waiting more than anything. And here he was, on a disgusting, germ-filled bus, ready to throw his entire life down the toilet. And all for her. The least she could do was write him back promptly. It was all he had to keep him going.

With a heavy sigh, he leaned back against the headrest and closed his eyes. It wasn’t until he did so that he realized just how tired he was. He let the quiet hum of the bus lull him into a light sleep, and dreamt of the day that he and Zina would be together at last. He couldn’t wait to tell her the truth about himself. All the things that he had been through for her. And in his dreams, she was there, ready to share his every trial and tribulation. There was never a more perfect woman.

 

Zina unSeen – Chapter 22

Dean was exhausted, and glad he’d had the foresight before his trip to take out over a thousand dollars in cash. He had never liked the idea of FaceSpace tracking his spending habits, which was disturbingly easy when he was using his ATM card, and touted his archaic determination to keep cash on hand as a way to avoid ATM surcharges. It made it much less suspicious that he would travel with a large amount of money, and it hadn’t been as if he were planning a rebellion all along. At least not consciously.

The past week had been an emotional roller coaster. He was physically and mentally depleted as he hitchhiked and walked on foot as quickly as he could back toward his home city. He had never been quite so vulnerable to fate as he was on the road, and although he had heard that some people preferred a lifestyle devoid of every day luxuries and security, it didn’t suit him well at all. Dean, unlike “D.” was a man of routine, and there were just some things he liked to have every morning, like a pot of coffee and the channel 6 news. Fortunately, he had made it to a small motel, where he was able to set down his heavy suitcase and pull out the tiny laptop he had recently purchased. It had no web cam installed in it, which was intentional. Dean needed to ensure that FaceSpace couldn’t view his face as he checked his page, and although the company may have recognized his voice were he to speak, he was silent.

As one last ditch attempt to prevent FaceSpace from locating him, he went into the hardware of the machine and disabled any of the programs he knew that FaceSpace regularly used to track the whereabouts of their users. And for the finishing touches, he duct taped over every visible piece of plastic and metal. It was common knowledge among FaceSpace agents that most technological devices of the higher brand quality were full of hidden cameras. That left no question as to the lifestyle of the user and their environment. He made sure to nip that sort of security in the bud. It was unlikely that they would be able to find him now, that was for sure.

Dean kicked off his shoes and lowered himself gently into a creaky wooden chair. His entire body was aching from his hectic journey. He had never been so close to homeless in his life, and it certainly wasn’t a comfortable way to live. He had gotten in trouble for sleeping, for crying out loud. A crude security guard had cursed him out for not having a ticket for the bus terminal where he had decided to spend the night a couple of days beforehand. Every day, he missed his childhood bedroom more and more.

He set his laptop down on the small table in the motel room and grinned at the squirrel sticker he had used to decorate the outside of his small machine. The laptop looked pretty terrible covered in all that duct tape, but the squirrel sticker had been an impulse buy at the office store that lent it some charm. Dean had hidden his face inside the store, knowing the machines each had cameras. Inside, it felt like there were a thousand different eyes, ever watching his every move. He had breathed a deep sigh of relief when he made it out with his tiny laptop, happy to know that soon his perilous journey would be over. His destination was Zina, and once he found her, he was sure everything was going to be okay.

He had never been so tired in his entire life. If she didn’t take him in with open arms, she would have to be one heartless bitch. Dean furrowed his eyebrows at the thought of being rejected by her again. He wouldn’t be able to handle it. He hated being mad at Zina. They certainly had a unique relationship. They had yet to have their first fight, but he didn’t look forward to that day. If they were all as explosive as the type his parents had, he hoped they would never fight.

Zina was a completely unique case, and he was certain that she was worth any difficulty they might experience as a couple, but he knew that women could be careless with their words and generally thought with just emotions. A man needed some logic in his life, and a woman wasn’t it. At least, that’s what his father was always saying. Dean didn’t really know what to believe about it. All he knew was that he would prefer to spend the day with his mother, whether her love for him was logical or not. Still, he was sure that the intense pleasure that Zina’s words could give him could easily turn into an equal intensity of pain. How did people make sure their relationships were perfect?

Dean didn’t know, and obviously his parents didn’t either, so he made a mental note to look into relationship advice once his tiny laptop managed a connection to the motel’s wireless internet. When he finally managed to get onto FaceSpace, Zina had written him back.

I had this really strange encounter with a man who is missing now. He worked for FaceSpace. It makes me kind of nervous.

Dean’s heart began thudding in his ears. So they knew he was missing now. That meant his mother was probably worried sick. He should call her. He wasn’t sure if they would have her phones tapped or not, but they probably would. He was sort of beyond caring at this point. He was going to call his mother whenever he damn well felt like it. He pushed the chair back from the table and creakily got to his feet. He grabbed the phone and dialed her number shakily.

“Dean, is that you?” her frantic voice answered.

“Yeah, Ma. Don’t worry. Listen though, things weren’t working out so well at work. I don’t want to go back but I don’t know what to do.”

“There were people here looking for you. Scary people. They gave me a package for you if you come back. But I understand, honey. Just be careful, all right?”

She didn’t ask questions, and Dean was silently overcome with gratitude.

“I love you, Ma.”

“I love you too. Oh, and Dean, guess what?”

“What?”

“I left your father.”

“What?!”

“I just can’t stand how he treats you, and me. For a long time I thought it’s just the way that men are supposed to act, but it’s not. So I left him.”

“Good for you, Ma!” Dean was sincerely elated.

“Anyway, I’m so glad you’re all right. Get in touch when you can.”

“I sure will, Ma.”

“Good boy. Talk to you soon.”

“Yup. Bye.”

Dean hung up the phone and grinned from ear to ear. His mother had stood up to his father and Zina was totally falling for him. Everything was as good as a fairy tale.

Zina unSeen – Chapter 21

Over the next week, Lain noticed a shift in Zina’s behavior. She couldn’t help but keep her distance from her, regardless of the fact that she was desperate to make things right and pretend nothing had happened. However, Zina made no move to do so, and seemed rather distracted by somebody she was constantly talking to on FaceSpace.

When Lain checked Zina’s page, she discovered a mysterious new friend on her list. Upon glancing over Zina’s shoulder as she sat on the couch, laughing at something unseen and unheard by Lain, she found her suspicions confirmed and realized (with intense jealousy), that Zina was talking to the strange man. He didn’t even have a picture up of himself on his profile, which was a huge red flag, and Lain was troubled by it. Over the years, the horror stories of people being lured in by creeps on FaceSpace only grew more and more disturbing.

Lain recognized her friend’s tendency to jump into self-destructive relationships during particularly stressful times, and very nearly could have strangled her for it. She was getting extremely fed up with Zina and her terrible ways of coping with life, and didn’t want to get dragged down with her any longer. Unfortunately, she didn’t know quite how to express what she was feeling.

Whenever she would go to bed at night, she would glance at her end table, at the index card she had scribbled a phone number down. It was for a place where maybe Zina could get some help. They had been together for far too long and there was no way she could just abandon her now. Still, they were at an impasse, and it seemed like nothing she did was going to change Zina’s determination to escape her life by doing something compulsive and stupid, like sharing her entire life story with someone who could be a serial killer.

Finally, one day, Lain plopped herself on the couch next to Zina, who was in the middle of typing something, her hands flying furiously across the keyboard of her small laptop. When she noticed Lain’s presence, she stopped briefly, glanced over at her, and started again. Lain sighed and pushed her head back into the cushion of the couch.

“What are you doing, Z?” she asked, her tone soft but dripping with reprehension.

“Talking to a friend,” she said, purposely avoiding Lain’s eyes.

“I see that,” Lain said, pursing her lips. “Who is it?”

“It’s not really any of your business,” Zina snapped. She was obviously still hurt and angry about Lain’s outburst and wasn’t going to be the first one to apologize.

“Is it that creep who keeps posting those weird pictures of pigeons on your page?” Lain asked. “The one with no picture up?”

“He put a picture up yesterday,” Zina said defensively, turning her screen toward Lain and pointing to a picture of a squirrel in a tuxedo.

“Charming,” Lain said, jealous bile rising in the back of her throat. “Look, just don’t tell him too much. You know there are some serious weirdos lurking on FaceSpace. Ever since the media took off over the first few cases, tons of people have it in their heads that they can get away with murder. Just watch yourself.”

“You know Lain, I really appreciate you watching my back and everything, but this isn’t like that. We’ve been talking for over a week and he’s just a nice guy. He’s friends with Roy, okay? I already asked.”

“You asked Roy?”

Zina hesitated and didn’t answer.

“Oh my god, Z.”

“It’s fine!”

“All right. But don’t come crying to me if you go and get yourself murdered.”

“Don’t worry. If I die, I’m sure bitching to you about it will be the last thing on my mind.”

“Good,” Lain said, pouting. She picked up the remote from the coffee table and turned on the TV.

Both Zina and Lain’s eyes were immediately drawn to the screen as a news reporter’s piercing voice began to speak.

“In other news, a valued FaceSpace employee has been reported missing. If you see this man, please report to your local authorities.”

The television began showing a clip of a man speaking cheerfully into a microphone about FaceSpace’s stock options, and Zina grew rigid.

“What’s wrong, Z?”

“That’s the guy who ran away from me in the park a few weeks ago,” she said, clutching the couch cushion between her body and Lain’s. “Should I report him?”

“I don’t know, he wasn’t missing then,” Lain said with a frown. “I hope they find him.”

“Yeah,” Zina whispered.

They watched the rest of the broadcast before Lain clicked the television set off and stood.

“Good night,” she said softly.

Zina held her eyes for the first time in weeks, suddenly overwhelmed by how much she had missed them.

“Good night.”

 

Zina unSeen – Chapter 20

Dean sat his suitcase down heavily and wiped his brow off. It had been a long walk to the library, but he was glad to finally be in the air conditioned building. He took a glance around, frowning. It didn’t seem like a whole lot of people used the place anymore. At least, not for reading. Most of the people he remembered perusing the shelves when he was a child were now sitting and staring at a computer screen. Many of them had large headphones over their ears, muting away the rest of the outside world. He noticed with annoyance that all of the computers were booked, and he had to sit, fidgeting in a chair in the corner like a dunce, as he waited for internet access.

Finally, after a two hour wait, he was allowed a precious fifteen minutes as a guest on one of their dirty machines. Dean grimaced and braced himself to touch the sticky keys. They were supposedly protected by a grubby rubber key protector that looked like it held more viruses in it than the computer of FaceSpace Headquarters’ infamous porn addict. Eventually he took a deep breath and steamed forward, laughing inwardly at himself. Apparently he had become spoiled by his state of the art machines at work. Everybody knew that he wouldn’t abuse his powers for pornography. The best use of his High-Definition technology was looking at Zina’s face. His heart began to thud rapidly as he clicked the agreement on the screen and his timer began. He had fifteen minutes to see if Zina had written him back.

The corners of his mouth drew into an anxious frown as he typed “FaceSpace.com” into the browser. The bright white screen flashed in front of him, prompting him to log in and see all his latest updates. He typed his user handle carefully and input his password – Zina123.

He wasn’t sure what he had expected, but it definitely hadn’t been to find a notification saying that Zina had accepted his Friend Ship. The sail waved victoriously with her grimly smiling face wiggling on it as tiny cannons erupted virtual confetti. It gave him a strange sinking feeling that was soon followed by elation. When he clicked over to his profile, he was shocked to discover that he had a glaring red notification on the sidebar. It was from Zina.

No words in any human language could ever accurately convey the depth of his joy as he read and re-read Zina’s message. He read it so many times, in fact, that he had very little time to respond. The first message he had written to her had been easily articulated. This had mostly been because nobody else had been at the library that late on a gloomy Sunday evening, and so his fifteen minute time limit had been lifted. Now though, he was confined to a few minutes with a very long wait, and he had to think fast. Her words were beautiful, and he was enraptured by them. Everything she had written, she had written just for him. And it was the most profound feeling of joy he had ever experienced.

Finally, he took a deep breath and began writing back to her. He could never properly articulate everything he felt, and had an intuitive grasp on the fact that he shouldn’t overstate his joy at her response. He decided to play it cool, even though tiny beads of sweat were beginning to form against his slowly receding hairline.

Thank you for your swift response. I couldn’t be better.

He paused as flashes of his turbulent morning tried to invade his thoughts. He was lying to her already. It made him feel guilty, but his burdens should never be hers.

I don’t get out much, so I never had much of a chance to spawn.

He felt particularly proud of the line, remembering back to one of her old status updates about who should spawn and who should never be around children. He wasn’t sure whether or not she wanted children, but the overwhelming majority of her posts implied that she had a low tolerance of them.

Maybe someday, if they miraculously become less needy or I become more patient.

He was down to five minutes.

I’m out of town or I would love to meet up with you guys as soon as possible. I can let you know as soon as I’m available. I saw you through Roy. I don’t know him well, to be honest with you. He seems to collect FaceSpace friends like they were trophies for his popularity.

He recognized Roy from her list, and it was true. The man had over 3,000 FaceSpace friends. There was no way he would ever have met them all. He seemed to accept people to his page as if the number stroked his ego.

I don’t watch the news, I find it far too bleak and you never quite get the whole story…

Another quote stolen from a post she had made last December.

The way people are using FaceSpace is awful! I may never spawn but it’s inexcusable to harm children.

Dean was sincerely horrified. He had never considered this aspect of FaceSpace’s reach. He had been sheltered from it as he puttered around in the FaceSpace dormitories and was brainwashed into believing that FaceSpace was the greatest thing since clean socks. If he hadn’t felt so strongly toward Zina, he might never have made it out of there.

Sorry to make this brief, but I have to go soon. I make it a point not to spend too much time on social media.

Another lie. He had literally spent the past three years of his life hooked up to FaceSpace like it was his life support.

I hope you understand if I don’t particularly feel close enough to Roy to hang out with the both of you, but I understand why you would be reluctant to meet on your own, considering the creeps that use the site nowadays. I’d love to talk more to you when I get the chance. Tell me more about how we potentially share a brain. It sounds like a sci fi flick.

Dean was doing his best to sound young and edgy, but he knew he should do his best to be honest with her. In reality, he was pushing 40, and had every intention of telling her so. But when his fingers headed toward the number pad, they hesitated.

I don’t think my age in numbers will ever fully embody the age of my soul. I’ve been around long enough to know you might be the best thing the universe has to offer though. That or I really need to get out more. Later.

Dean smiled, hoping the last part would make Zina laugh. He hit send, just as the timer went off and he was ushered away from the computer by an impatient man with a deep scowl. Dean picked up his heavy suitcase and walked toward the door. He was going to head east. Back toward Zina.

Zina unSeen – Chapter 19

Zina had thought all day about the mysterious “D.” She couldn’t concentrate on Gwen’s prattle, which was actually something of a blessing when it came right down to it. She was as snobby as they came. The only time she would perk up was when Gwen would reminisce about her childhood and tell her all kinds of stories from her own point of view about Lain. Lain was one of those kids who never seemed quite “suited” to having money, and whenever they would play together, for some reason she would always be a drama queen and have some sort of crazy meltdown. Gwen speculated that it was because Lain was an only child and had never been accustomed to wealth or other children.

Zina would just quietly listen as she spoke, never expecting any real feedback. However, it was obvious that for some reason, this artistic, penniless freak’s opinion actually meant something to her. She obviously viewed Zina as edgy and interesting, and sought her approval at every turn. Usually, her desperate attempts to brag about her own edgy streak fell flat and left Zina feeling markedly embarrassed for her.

It was so much easier for both of them if Zina tuned her out. That way, Gwen wouldn’t be put off by Zina’s tolerant but condescending smiles, and Zina wouldn’t go insane from the incredible lack of depth in Gwen’s mundane, but privileged, life. Instead of listening, she busied herself articulating a response, and the second she got the chance to sneak away for a lunch break, she held her phone tightly and typed her message with shaking hands.

D.,

I don’t know where you came from but your words spoke to me on so many levels. It’s as if you have nearly the same brain as I do, it’s uncanny. I’m so happy that you contacted me, it’s been a long time since someone has renewed my faith in humanity. Thank you for that.

Most people would think that I’m crazy for answering a letter from a stranger, especially someone on FaceSpace, but there is just something about your message that really spoke to me. Which friend are you a friend of on my list? I would love if maybe all of us could go out sometime and hang out. Maybe that way I can find out whether or not you really are too good to be true.

I noticed that you don’t have a whole lot of pictures or posts up. In fact, your profile looks brand new. I understand what it can be like to have FaceSpace hacked. Most people won’t accept you twice though, not after all the reports of fake accounts and the horrible people connected to them. Did you see the statistics about how many children have gone missing after accepting strange friends on FaceSpace? It’s a terrifying world out there.

Do you have children? How old are you? Don’t be afraid to be honest with me. The fastest way to make me reject you is to lie to me, because I always find out. Even if you think you’re too ugly for a FaceSpace picture, I can tell you have a good heart. I’m curious to find out more about you. Thanks for taking the time to write that beautiful message. I hope that this one finds you well.

Until we speak again,

Zina