Zina unSeen – Chapter 14

Lain smacked the cymbal hard, still fuming. Zina was really going to put her over the edge one of these days. She felt like an idiot for trying to be her friend for so long. There was no way that could last anymore. It was time to get herself out of this relationship, or at the very least, out of the apartment. She had been hoping she could get over her feelings and still have Zina in her life, but there was no way. It felt toxic. The girl had no clue what on earth she wanted, and whenever she got an idea, she would poke at it and then withdraw like it was on fire. She was like a cat. Sometimes she would seize the string and gnaw the shit out of it, but most of the time she would bat at it and then run away. She was most comfortable with her independence.

It had been like that from the start, and Lain had done her best to be there for her through thick and thin. The two were inseparable, and had done everything together. Not long after they met, Zina had shown up at school with her wrists and shoulder covered in dark purple bruises. Lain had whisked her to the bathroom, demanding to know what happened. Finally, after she had sworn on her life to keep a terrible secret, she discovered that Zina’s mother had a boyfriend who got his hands on her any chance he got.

Whenever Zina told her that her mom’s boyfriend would be around, Lain would demand Karl to pick up her friend. The three of them would drive around until the asshole left, or take her back to Lain’s house if her parents weren’t home. Most of the time they weren’t, and they would hide out in Lain’s bedroom. Whenever Lain was busy but Zina needed a way out, Karl was there. The girl had grown on him over the years, and he treated her with the tenderness and firm authority of a father, the same way he treated Lain.

What Lain hadn’t understood for a long time was just how troubled Zina was. Hell, fucked up was more like it. She lived on her own planet, and sometimes it was like she wasn’t even in the room with you. When they were kids, she had told Lain that she felt like a ghost, as if her body wasn’t even really there. It surprised her when she was reminded of its presence, and she would often overreact when she was startled by something as harmless as a splash of water. It had been a constant source of frustration for Lain, who was impulsive and mischievous.

For a long time it was hard for her to wrap her head around their differences. She didn’t fully understand what it might have meant to live in poverty until one day Zina had come to school surly and distant. Finally, Lain got her to admit that the gas was off in her apartment, so she had to take a cold shower that morning and she hadn’t eaten since two days before. But what had really blown Lain’s mind was when they were sixteen and she had picked Zina up for a joyride. They parked on an unused overpass and stared out at the trees and river below. It had been silent until Zina spoke.

“If I asked you to kill somebody, you would.”

Lain frowned and tilted her head, and Zina had punched the stone railing. She started to cry, and Lain rushed to her side as the words started pouring out. Zina told her how her mother’s boyfriend had preferred her over her mother. How her mother blamed her for it and favored her little brother, spoiling him to the point that he was a repulsive, self-obsessed human being. How the woman had no motivation to stop it from happening, and if Zina ever tried to tell her mother about all the ways the man would use her, she’d get screamed at and called a liar. How her mother and her boyfriend would take pills with their alcohol and laugh when her tiny brother put cigarettes in his mouth.

As the years passed, Lain learned more and more about Zina’s life, and the pieces started coming together. Her heart would break as she saw her go through severe downs, and ups that only lasted a short while because they were brought on by some crazy, self-destructive impulse. She watched again and again as the girl fell on her face, tried to pick herself up again, then ended up deeper down than she was before. She would try to warn her and offer her hand, but Zina wouldn’t listen. She would do whatever the hell she wanted to do, running further and further away from the things she really wanted. Worse, she would avoid what she really needed, and stay stuck in the lifestyle she was used to – living without.

It had been Lain’s idea to get the apartment together. She loved Zina blindly and loyally, and put her first before everyone else in the world. Her love had developed before the pity, and now she was stuck with far too much knowledge about a girl who would never take the first step toward her own happiness. Not when she could get away with lying in a ditch and watching the rest of the world go on around her. Lain had finally convinced her father to invest in a studio where Zina could express herself. Lain and her parents had done their best to point their friends and associates in Zina’s direction whenever they needed something artistic done, and she had been slowly gaining a sense of self worth through her work. It was a start, and Lain had never seen her so happy.

Still, the bullshit with Damien and Kylie was too much. Living with the girl she cared most about in the world, who was still half blind to her own worth, was too much. They were just going to have to go their separate ways, or she would never be able to move on and live her life, maybe never have a real, uninhibited relationship with someone. Zina would never admit that she needed help, and to the rest of the world, she simply looked proud, beautiful, and strong. Talented and unique. Gorgeous. But Lain saw beyond all of that. She knew all there was to know, and did her best to help hug Zina’s pieces back in place. But she couldn’t do it anymore. It was time for her to move on.

Zina unSeen – Chapter 13

Zina stared at the ceiling as she listened to Lain banging away on the miniature drum set in her bedroom. She knew why she was angry – the two had known each other for years and the history between them was deep but messy. They met in sixth grade, during try outs for the advanced choir. Zina was only there because she hated going home and looked for any excuse to linger at school. Not Lain. She was there because her voice was incredible.

They stood in line together, chattering as each student was called up, one by one, to perform. The two had hit it off immediately, and something about the way Lain looked at her made Zina know, deep in her soul, that they were going to end up being close friends. Finally, it was Lain’s turn to perform. She grinned nervously at Zina before bounding up to the little raised platform where the microphone was standing.

Once the feedback died down, Lain cleared her throat softly before the world melted away. Zina was immersed in the haunting depths of her voice. It wasn’t the traditional sound, and the teacher didn’t look particularly impressed with her husky rendition of “Wicked Games,” but Zina was. Even when the rest of the room giggled at the sexual implications of the song, Zina stared at the beautiful girl, captivated by her composure and flawless delivery. Finally, Lain took her bow, and held Zina’s gaze levelly as she descended from the platform and headed to the side of the auditorium where those who were finished sat together nervously. Zina watched the girl, her heart thudding, before the moment was abruptly shattered.

“Next!” the choir teacher shouted.

Suddenly, Zina realized that she would have to perform after the amazing girl ahead of her. She had planned to do a mock version of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” since she knew she couldn’t carry a tune to save her life, but her stomach churned and she sped out of the room as fast as she could. She refused to humiliate herself. The students uttered another chorus of laughter as her footsteps echoed loudly around them. She pushed the heavy doors of the auditorium open and liberated herself into the darkened hallway. She took a deep breath and turned the corner to sit on a bench, free of the mess she had gotten herself into.

She was composing herself and trying to talk herself into heading back home when she heard a click from the heavy doors. A gentle hand fell on her shoulder. There was Lain, looking down at her in concern. Zina’s heart skipped a beat as the girl looked deeply into her eyes.

“Are you all right?” she asked softly.

“Yeah,” Zina whispered.

They were deep in the school after hours, and the lights in the hallway had been turned off. They were left in the glow coming in from the huge windows. It created a somber atmosphere, where both of them felt reserved. While the hallways were normally bustling with activity, the abnormal silence was eerie and they were compelled to keep their voices low.

Lain pursed her lips, clearly skeptical. She smoothed the wrinkles in her cream colored skirt and sat on the bench beside Zina so that they were eye to eye. Zina was overwhelmed by the intensity of Lain’s eyes, and found her own downcast. It almost hurt them to look at her. Like staring right into the sun.

“Did you get scared?” Lain asked.

“I didn’t want to perform anyway,” Zina mumbled.

“Why are you here then?”

“It’s better than going home,” Zina replied, sighing deeply and sitting back against the wall.

“Yeah, home can be pretty boring,” Lain said.

“That’s not why,” Zina said sharply.

Suddenly Lain seemed to understand.

“Hey, would you like to come over to my house?” she asked. Zina looked up cautiously, peering into Lain’s gentle eyes. They had colors in them she had never seen before.

“Yeah, sure.”

“Let’s go then, my ride will be here soon.”

Lain took Zina’s hand, and they ran together toward the door.

A fancy car rolled up outside and Lain grew excited.

“That’s Karl! Let’s go.”

A man got out of the car and opened the door for Lain. He studied Zina with a vaguely disguised look of contempt.

“Who is this?” he asked.

“This is my friend. She’s coming over today.”

“Your parents didn’t tell me anything about that.”

“It doesn’t matter, they won’t mind. Let’s just go, we have homework.”

“Yes, Miss.”

Karl nodded his balding head and closed the door heavily behind Zina. The girls chattered excitedly until the car rolled into the driveway of a gigantic house. Zina’s heart suddenly filled with dread. She looked at Lain, her eyes wide with concern.

“You didn’t tell me you were rich,” she gasped. “Maybe I should go home.”

“You better not, it doesn’t matter. Please just come in. We have cookies! And a pool. You’ll love it, just come on.”

Karl opened the door for Zina, and she had no choice but to exit the vehicle. Lain followed swiftly behind her, holding her hand comfortingly until the girls were inside the dazzling mansion. Zina’s feeling of dread only worsened the further in they got, until Lain finally sighed.

“Let’s just go to my room,” she said. “None of this stuff is mine anyways.”

Zina instantly relaxed once they were in Lain’s room, and the two of them talked and laughed together for hours. They played games and Lain showed her how to play a small beat on the same miniature drumset that she was beating on as Zina laid on the couch. At the end of the night, Lain’s parents still hadn’t come home.

“Can you spend the night?” she asked.

Zina had agreed immediately, not bothering to check with her mother. She knew she was in for it when she got home, but she didn’t care. That night, she asked where she was going to sleep, and Lain thought for a moment before turning down the corner of her quilt.

“We have a guest room, but I’d like you to stay in here.”

“All right.”

They cuddled into her big, comfortable bed together. Lain fell asleep quickly. Zina hadn’t known it at the time, but she was always up at the crack of dawn, busy with lessons. She, on the other hand, had many sleepless nights, and tossed and turned beside Lain. She found herself gazing at her soft features in the moonlight, her heart in her throat. Lain’s beauty was so profound that it was almost ethereal. Zina found herself unable to resist touching Lain’s cheek as she slept.

A sudden compulsion swept Zina away, and she knelt over her new friend, studying her perfect face and fighting the urge to cry. A little tear drop escaped, sliding swiftly down her nose and dripping onto Lain’s forehead. Before she had a chance to stir, Zina kissed Lain gently on the lips, and was surprised by the gentle tugging of Lain kissing her back.

Zina pulled away, studying Lain closely. Her eyes had opened into little, tired slits, and she yawned. Without another word, she gripped Zina’s hand and rolled over to the other side of the bed, so that they weren’t facing each other anymore, and went back to sleep.

Zina unSeen – Chapter 12

Dean hadn’t been so happy since three years ago at Christmas, when his mother’s warm embrace had engulfed him last. Now, here he was again in her arms, feeling as happy to see her as he had when he was six and she would pick him up from the babysitter’s house. He would be playing by himself in the corner while the other kids in the house purposely avoided him (unless they were teasing him mercilessly). His older brother spent time with his friend across the street from their home, but since Dean had no friends, he had to stay with a random woman in the neighborhood who collected kids like coins.

Her house was always chaos, and Dean felt very out of place. Most of the kids were much older and meaner than he was, and they excluded him and constantly made him feel inferior. Their loud shouts were terrifying to him, and all day long he would entertain himself with crayons and clay, hoping that his mother would come through the door any second. When she did, it was the happiest part of his day, and he would cling to her leg as she got updates from the babysitter and paid her for her service. Neither Dean nor the babysitter told his mother about the issues he had with the other kids, and she didn’t ask.

“I’ve missed you so much, honey!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe you were able to make time to come down and see your little ol’ Ma.”

“It is pretty miraculous,” Dean agreed, wanting to say so much more. He wanted her to know he thought about her every day. That he hovered his finger over the number 1 on his speed dial, desperate to hear her voice. That every night he would check her FaceSpace page and wish to give her high ratings for every post she made about apple butter. He held it back and simply enjoyed the moment. Two weeks would never be enough.

“How was your flight?” she asked, whisking him into the kitchen, where his favorite meal, spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread, was laid out on the table. His father was hiding behind a newspaper, just like he remembered from being a boy. He raised his eyes over it and nodded courteously at his son. Dean felt humbled by the gesture, and was immediately compelled to portray himself to be as mature and successful as possible.

“Oh, you know how it is,” he said vaguely, knowing perfectly well that neither of his parents had ever been on a plane. His mother was dying to know what it was like in the city where her youngest son lived, and his father acted above it. Dean could tell it impressed his father though, and exploited this facet of the old man’s attention any chance he got. He caught a glimpse of his mother’s face, blank and sad, and realized with a sudden pang of guilt that this game would only hurt her.

“It was tiring, that’s all. I didn’t enjoy the woman I had to sit next to.”

“You ever enjoy a woman, Dean?” his dad asked with a low chuckle to himself.

“Of course,” Dean replied, bristling as Zina came to mind. “Just nobody I could bring home to Ma.”

His dad’s only chance at competing with his son was with his bristling masculinity. He had secured himself a wife and was virile enough to produce offspring. What had Dean done? Run away to the city to hide in his work. The boy was miserably shy, but it was good to know he was getting his feet wet. Some of his qualities had to have rubbed off on the kid. Dean couldn’t be totally womanly like his mother; that would reflect poorly on his father.

Dean sensed this odd rivalry and gave his father a challenging grin. The old man seemed to love this, and held Dean’s gaze before smirking back down into his newspaper. The interaction was obviously stressing out his mother, so Dean inhaled deeply and smiled over at her.

“Everything looks and smells amazing, Ma. Thank you for going to all this trouble for me.”

“It’s no trouble at all,” she said, hugging him again. “Now sit down and eat.”

Zina unSeen – Chapter 11

Zina let the door slam closed behind her and dropped her portfolio and the heavy bags of groceries that she had brought home. The house was unusually quiet, and she poked her head into the living room, where Lain was sitting on the couch and staring off into space.

“Hey, I brought home dinner.”

“Cool,” Lain said, without looking at her.

Her dismissive attitude hurt Zina’s feelings.

“Is something wrong?” she asked, dropping her keys onto the end table with a clink and approaching Lain.

Lain pursed her lips and looked further away from Zina. She had never seen Lain act like this before, and was put off and concerned by it. She searched her mind for reasons Lain might have to be upset.

“Did something happen at practice?” she guessed.

Lain glowered at the arm chair behind Zina.

“Okay, you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. I’m here for you though. I love you.”

Zina reached down to touch Lain’s long braid gently and Lain flinched away from her touch.

“Love,” she scoffed.

“Oh no…did you talk to Kylie?” Zina asked, sitting on the couch beside Lain.

Lain met her eyes for the first time.

“Yeah, that was a great idea. Thank you very much,” she grumbled.

“Things didn’t go well?” Zina’s face contorted in sympathy.

Lain stood up and glowered down at Zina.

“No, she’s straight. But totally wants to bang our bass player. Damn you breeders…” Lain put her hands over her face and Zina stood.

“Hey!” she exclaimed, offended and pained by Lain’s outburst. “You don’t get to call me that.”

“Isn’t that what you do? Get yourself hooked on some maggot who’s no good for you just so you can carry his spawn and pretend you’re part of a larger whole? Have these meaningless relationships because it’s fun and convenient and then divorce ten years later and fuck your kid’s lives up?”

“What is your problem?” Zina cried. But there was no stopping her. Lain was on a roll.

“’I’m falling in love with you.’ I fucking said that to her.”

“Look, I’m sorry she doesn’t love you back, but you can’t take it out on me.”

“I never wanted her to love me back!” Lain shouted. “I just wanted to get over this.”

“Get over what?! I don’t know why you’re yelling at me!” Zina shouted back.

“You wouldn’t understand how much it hurts to have someone look at you and be offended at the idea that they might be like you are. Like what you are is so inherently corrupted and disgusting that you should never associate them with it. I can’t believe I let you talk me into that, especially when I think we both know perfectly well that I’m fucking in love with you! You’re such a shit!” Lain pulled Zina by the lapel and kissed her hard.

Zina was caught breathlessly in Lain’s passionate embrace, and when Lain pulled away, she was still steaming forward in full force. Zina’s heart was thudding hard in her ears, and the same rush of desire she had felt that morning overwhelmed her. She said nothing, just watched Lain.

“When I said I was falling in love with you, I had my eyes closed. I wasn’t thinking about her. All I could see was you.” Her temper was winding down now. It was apparent by her tone of voice.

“I’m not a breeder,” Zina mumbled sulkily.

“Oh my god, you drive me crazy!” Lain exclaimed, stalking out of the room. She walked through the huge open concept doorway and headed to her bedroom, where she slammed the door behind her. Zina collapsed onto the couch and pinched the bridge of her nose, letting her tears pool silently against her fingertips. She didn’t know what the hell she was supposed to do now.

Zina unSeen – Chapter 10

“When you get home, what do you tell your parents you do at your job when they ask?” the agent quizzed.

“I review stock options,” Dean answered swiftly.

“If they ask to buy some?”

“They won’t,” Dean assured the agent.

“But if they want more information regardless?”

“I direct them to the website, where there’s a giant picture of my smiling face at the bottom.”

“Right. You’re to keep your phone on you at all times. You can’t take a shit without us knowing about it.”

“Understood.”

“If you break any code of confidentiality, you and the person you tell will be subject to profound punishment.”

“I know. You can count on me to keep FaceSpace confidential.”

“You realize that if people knew the extent of information we compile about them and what it is used for, we would lose out on billions of dollars and the country would be in constant danger of terrorism.”

“I do understand,” Dean said.

“You can contact us at this web address. Give me your phone.”

Dean handed the agent his phone and the agent fiddled with it.

“I bookmarked the page where you can communicate with us any of your needs or concerns. If you become aware of any suspicion toward the FaceSpace corporation or treasonous activities during your stay, alert us immediately.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Anyone who has any nonconformist tendencies should be avoided at all costs. Their words and actions will be eternally recorded by FaceSpace.com and they could be held accountable for any treasonous activities in a court of martial law.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Dean?”

“Yes sir?”

“Enjoy your vacation.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The look in the agent’s eyes caught Dean off guard. It was as if the man truly meant what he said. Some people were never so lucky as to secure a whole two weeks at home. Most FaceSpace agents only got to see their families a couple of days every year, during special occasions. Often, they were promised the opportunity to see family only to have the promise broken. Dean suspected this was to simply keep up the agent’s morale and give them something to look forward to, while simultaneously keeping the agents in line. They all knew who their puppet master was, and every agent treasured time with the friends and family they had made in their life before FaceSpace.

Dean suddenly found himself filled with joy and anticipation. He was released to his cubicle, where he logged on to his FaceSpace page. It was on this same interface that he had first seen Zina’s face, heard her clever commentary on life and witnessed the world as beautifully as if he could see right through her eyes. Now what did he have? She would think he was a freak.

Still, nothing could dampen his spirits. He was going to see his mother, and she was going to be so happy and proud of him for compiling stock options for FaceSpace.com. It broke his heart to lie, but he loved seeing how happy she was for him. Dean quickly purchased his plane tickets online and carefully typed into the text box prompting him to elaborate anything on his mind.

“I’m coming home!!!”

Zina unSeen – Chapter 9

“Lain, what are you doing here?”

Kylie looked up from the sheets of music she was studying and peered into the brightly lit doorway, where Lain’s dark silhouette was standing. Rehearsal wasn’t going to be until much later, and Kylie liked the extra time alone. It was during the early morning that her creativity was at its peak, and having anyone around during that time was really disruptive to her creative flow.

“I have to talk to you,” Lain said quietly.

The edge in her voice was gone. There was no trace of the aggressive woman who could wail into a microphone for hours, slamming the patriarchy or asserting her independence. It was a little bit alarming.

“Are you okay?” Kylie asked.

“I’m fine. Sorry, this is stupid. I should go.”

“Well you already interrupted me, you might as well make it worth it.”

The daring but kind glint in Kylie’s eyes made Lain sigh and stay put.

“It’s just that…ugh, I don’t know why this is so hard.”

“Sit down. What’s wrong?”

Lain shifted uncomfortably. She reluctantly crossed the room and settled on a stool opposite Kylie.

“I’m not sure what to do now,” she whispered. The air between them seemed thick, and Lain inhaled deeply.

“Just say the first thing on your mind,” Kylie said, grabbing her guitar and strumming softly. The music relaxed Lain and she closed her eyes.

“I’m falling in love with you.”

The music stopped abruptly and Lain opened her eyes. Kylie was staring at her. At first, her expression was difficult to read, but then she stood up and backed away.

“Lain, you know I’m not…like that…right?” Kylie asked, setting her guitar down with a resounding thud.

Lain bowed her head. She had known it was possible that she was misreading Kylie. It wasn’t the first time. There were moments when she saw only what she wanted to see, and forgot that the strange anomoly of straightness actually did infect some women. Getting it wrong was one of the most embarrassing things she could do, which was another of the many reasons she had been holding off on telling Kylie about her feelings.

Zina would never have understood that. She had never let anybody in except for Damien, and that had been a catastrophe. She felt a sudden anger toward her friend. Zina, who was perfect in every way. Who she had been hopelessly drawn to from the second she laid eyes on her. Zina, the straight and unattainable.

“I guess it’s always a gamble with women,” Lain mumbled. “I’m sorry, I knew I shouldn’t have said anything. But uh, either way it’s best you know since we work together and everything. I just wanted to be honest.”

She was crushed and humiliated, but trying her hardest to keep her composure. Kylie stared across the space between them, her eyes softening as Lain’s began to water.

“I mean, if I was a homo I’d be totally flattered, but I’m just not. To be honest, I really like Loki. That sexy shirt he wears, you know, the see through one? I can never concentrate when he’s in it.”

Lain wasn’t sure if her crush’s crush on their bass player was supposed to make her feel better or worse. She raised an eyebrow at Kylie, who exhaled a desperate laugh. They were both feeling pretty awkward. It was exactly the situation Lain had been hoping to avoid.

“What I’m saying is these things happen, you know?” Kylie said. “We spend a lot of time together, it’s natural. But I’m never going to tell Loki about these stupid feelings. Mostly because it would go straight to his head and he’d come to every practice obsessed with boning me. I’m gonna let this one go, for the band’s sake, and I’m sure you’ll get over your crush on me too. In the meantime we can continue to make music the best that we can. I love what we’re doing here.”

“I love it too,” Lain mumbled, rubbing her temples. “God, straight people have it so easy!”

“What do you mean? We’re kind of in the same boat here,” Kylie said.

“Yeah, you could approach Loki and he could reject you, or more likely, fuck you and ruin the band for everybody. But there’s not the chance that he would look at you like you’re less than human for being honest about your feelings. Or the fear that your interest in him could result in being treated like some contagious disease by the people you care about most -”

Lain’s voice cracked and she hid her face in her hands as a powerful sob overtook her. Kylie jumped over to her and hugged her tightly.

“Look, I’m not a homophobe, all right? And I know you’ve probably had some fucked up experiences with girls who were. I already knew you were gay before we started this thing, and I love everything about you. You don’t have to worry about that with me, and you shouldn’t worry about it with anyone. What they think about you doesn’t matter. Just do what works for you and makes you happy. If they act like that, they never deserved you in the first place.”

She caressed Lain’s head as she cried. Finally, her tears subsided and she quieted in Kylie’s arms. It felt right – this distance between them – and she knew that friendship was all they were meant to have. Some part of her had always known that.

When they broke their embrace, Lain looked up at the ceiling and laughed as she wiped her face off.

“That was awkward. Thank you for not lynching me or something.”

“Christ. Why would I do that?”

Lain shrugged.

“You never know. I’m really sorry. My roommate pushed me into doing this.”

“Zina? You know, I always assumed you two were together,” Kylie said.

“Wouldn’t that make more sense?” Lain laughed, hopping off her stool and heading toward the door.

“I’ll see you at 3:00, yeah?” Kylie called. Lain turned and grinned at her.

“Wouldn’t miss it.”

Zina unSeen – Chapter 8

When Dean made it to the office the next day, he was a wreck. He walked to Mr. Brown’s office with his hands shaking and knocked tentatively. A gruff call to enter came from inside, and Dean found himself face to face once again with the man who was in charge of FaceSpace.com. Dean gulped and walked in front of the man’s desk.

“Dean, I was going to call for you in just a moment. I was having a few thoughts about your situation.”

Dean was quiet, and ran a hand through his hair. Normally neat, it was now disheveled and probably just as heartbroken by its lack of maintenance as Dean was by his interaction with Zina. Mr. Brown gestured at the chair in front of his desk and Dean seated himself, holding his breath for whatever his boss was going to say.

“I have another user for you to work with. His name is Pete. I think you and Pete have a similar personality type and would hit it off well.”

Dean grimaced at the interjection of some sort of personal relationship. He couldn’t see himself being enamored by a guy named Pete, and he was sure his boss had chosen this man very carefully for that exact reason. He was probably the type of guy who posted imperative updates about his cheese sandwich every seven seconds from his mother’s basement. Maybe that’s exactly what he needed. The less Pete was like Zina the better. He wasn’t sure he could handle any more original thoughts right now.

“I was very glad to hear your message this morning, Dean. It takes a big man to admit what he doesn’t even want to admit to himself. I don’t blame you for your feelings; I was looking over her user profile and she is quite a foxy little thing.”

Dean grimaced, both at his boss’ use of the term “foxy,” and because he really hated the idea of anybody else finding Zina attractive or interesting in any way. He felt that he understood her better than anyone else ever could, and Mr. Brown’s careless objectification of Zina was quite unwelcome. She was so much more than her exterior. Regardless, he gave his boss a resigned grin.

“That’s the spirit, boy. Now, before we move you on to Pete, there is something we should do first. I think you need a good old fashioned reboot. I want you to take a vacation. It’s imperative to your mental health and your future with this company.”

“A vacation? Where will I go?” Dean was suddenly anxious. He had heard tell of many misadventures his colleagues had dealt with while on vacation.

“Since you are so highly valued here at FaceSpace, we think the thing that would do you the most good is a visit with your family. There will be guidelines for you to follow, of course, a certain protocol if you will, but an agent will brief you on these shortly. In the meantime, I think you should call your mother and let her know that you’re on your way. You should update your FaceSpace page so everyone knows.”

“Yessir,” Dean said, feeling a twinge of unease when he thought of his own FaceSpace page. He had an agent who posted on his behalf every so often so that his family wouldn’t get suspicious of his lack of activity. Since he wasn’t allowed to have a social life because of the top secret nature of the organization, they were rarely trusted to make their own social media posts. Now that he was given permission to access to his account, it brought back all his memories of the night before with Zina. He associated the entire interface with her.

“Any questions you might have about how to conduct yourself during your vacation will be answered by the agent who briefs you. I do need to emphasize that considering your situation, it’s imperative you update us as often as possible. We’re setting up a personal account for you so that you can talk to us any time, anywhere. It’s accessible through your phone.”

Dean’s mind wandered to the phone in his breast pocket. He knew the agents could use it to listen to his every move and conversation. There was even a GPS tracking device in it so they would know exactly where he was at all times. Still, it was usually more of a comfort than a burden. He also knew that FaceSpace was tragically understaffed, so his information would be processed much later after the event should anything go wrong.

“That’s all for now, Dean. Thank you again for your honesty. You’re looking at a hefty promotion upon your return.”

This news made him perk up. The first real smile in hours began to twitch the corners of his lips, and Mr. Brown leaned back in his chair, very pleased with himself for having the power to give and take privileges so easily. Dean recognized the look and stood before his revulsion could show on his face.

“Thank you very much, sir,” he said.

And he meant it. The idea of being able to visit home for his vacation was the best news he’d heard in months. He couldn’t wait to get on his FaceSpace account and tell the world that he, Dean Jacobs, was going home. He smiled all the way down to his cubicle, and felt a huge surge of relief when he saw that it was empty, cleaned of all trace of Zina. He secretly thanked the agents for their efficiency, and before long, he was filing the paperwork that came with a user switch and wondering how long he would get to be home.

Zina unSeen – Chapter 7

Zina furrowed her eyebrows and tried to shift, but she couldn’t move. For a moment, she panicked, remembering the face of the bizarre stranger in the park. Had he tied her down? Her eyes flew open and she exhaled in relief. Lain had fallen asleep on top of her, snuggled gently like a cat. They had broken open a bottle of wine during Yahtzee and had somehow ended up on the living room couch together. Zina tried again to shift, but didn’t have the heart to move Lain, who was snoring softly. She smelled really good; gentle like lavender.

“Lain, I’ve gotta get up,” she whispered, nudging Lain’s head with her nose. Zina felt an unexpected twinge of pleasure as Lain buried herself into her chest. Her hand found itself comfortably gripping the roundness of Zina’s breast, and Zina inhaled sharply. Her cheeks flushed a deep red as she contemplated her next move. Lain sleepily assumed that she was another of her lovers. The most awkward part was that she almost wished she were. It would make the pain of losing Damien and the discomfort she felt from the man at the park almost nonexistent.

Zina assertively gripped Lain’s arms and flipped her over on the couch. She found herself settled on top of her friend. The movement was enough to stir Lain from her sleep and she opened her eyes groggily.

“Wow, Z. Didn’t know you had it in ya,” she laughed.

“Hush,” Zina said good-naturedly. “If you weren’t molesting me in your sleep maybe you could have stayed there.”

“Yeah, well it looks like you’re the one doing the molesting now,” Lain observed.

Zina shook her head and dismounted. She was going to be late for work again.

“No, don’t go!” Lain called after her. “I kinda liked it!”

Zina headed for the bathroom.

“I thought you liked Kylie!” she called over her shoulder, stripping once she reached the bathroom. She took a quick glance at her bedraggled face and jumped in the shower.

“Yeah, but she’s no you!”

“Dude, I look like the walking dead right now.”

“All the better to eat me with, my dear!”

“Oh my god, you’re so gross!”

Lain cackled and Zina grinned despite herself, shaking her head. That girl always knew how to crack herself up. Zina twisted the knobs of the showerhead and listened as Lain rolled off the couch and tapped her microphone. She began singing an impromptu love song, and by the time Zina was done with her shower, her cheeks hurt from laughing and all thoughts of the horrible men in her life had disappeared.

“You know,” she said when she was dried off and dressed, “if I wasn’t so sure you were fucking with me, I probably would have dated you if I hadn’t been with Damien.”

“Well I’m only fucking with you because you’re straight,” Lain said with a crooked smile. She was back to sitting on the couch and sipping some coffee. “If I thought there was any real chance in hell, we’d have to have a serious talk.”

“Straight huh? Give me some time to think things over and maybe we will. But I still think you should talk to Kylie. You’ve been into her for months.”

“It’s bad luck to get involved with a band member,” Lain sighed.

“It’s bad luck to get involved with a roommate too,” Zina laughed.

“But you’re a hot roommate!” Lain protested. “100% of case studies have proven that the bad luck is worth it.”

“If you say so,” Zina said, kissing Lain on top of the head as she whisked past to grab her keys. “But seriously, talk to that girl. I think she likes you too.”

“Maybe…” Lain said.

As Zina left, she laughed to herself. For someone who seemed so assertive, when it came to her real feelings, Lain was really shy. She put on a brave face but she couldn’t hide her vulnerabilities from her roommate. It was really strange to consider, but it made sense in a way. She hadn’t always been totally open with Damien either. It was really difficult to put yourself out there for someone who could break your heart with just a look.

She sighed and braced herself for another day with the pretentious Gwen. The money was good, but she felt unhappy every time she remembered her obligations toward the woman. It was difficult to reconcile the exploitation of her art for money, especially for people like Gwen, but she had to make a living somehow. At least this way she was her own boss. Most people envied her. They had no idea of the emotional toll it could take. At least she was in control, she thought, and headed up to the loft.

Zina unSeen – Chapter 6

Dean paced around the park as night began to cloak the city. The rain was falling more heavily now, and he was starting to feel its icy chill as it soaked through his clothes. He had seen her. She had been right there, right within sight. He could have touched her. Held her. But he didn’t even speak to her. What was wrong with him?

She had just watched as he ran away like a coward. The look on her face was something he would never forget. A mixture of fear and scorn. Now, if he ever saw her again, he would never be able to approach her without remembering the pain of their first meeting. It had meant the world to him, but to Zina it had just been another horrible experience that she might make a status update about. If he had to go to work tomorrow and see what she really thought of him, he was sure he would throw up.

The thought was disturbing enough that he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and held down the number 2. Mr. Brown’s gritty voice began to play through the speakers. It was a recorded message instructing Dean to leave a message.

“I was thinking about what you said, and I think maybe you’re right about changing users. It might do me some good to get a fresh perspective. Maybe we can discuss it further in the morning.”

He hung up and dropped the phone back into his pocket. Dean headed toward the opposite end of the city, where he stayed in an apartment building full of the other agents who worked for FaceSpace Corps. It seemed like a normal enough building, but that’s how the government wanted it to look. They didn’t need the public finding out that their beloved social media platform was really the most massive spying organization the world had ever seen.

Dean swiped his card through the scanner and the door to the lobby opened up for him. He walked slowly to the elevator and leaned against the wall as it whizzed upward, toward the 17th floor where he lived.The floor was mostly empty, with the exception of a couple FaceSpace technicians and the federal agent who was assigned to keep them all in line. He was the spy of the spies. Normally that would make him chuckle, but Dean was getting very crotchety with the whole thing. He gripped his cell phone in his pocket as he unlocked his door and closed it behind him. Number 1 on his speed dial was reserved for his mother. He missed her more than anything.

He was freezing now that he was inside his air-conditioned apartment. He opted to take a hot shower before sinking down on his couch and staring out the window at the city. He had left the living room lights off, so the skyline twinkled in the distance, dancing like stars. It would have looked beautiful on any other night, but that night Dean scowled at it. There were simply too many people in the world. He was tired of emotions, and even more tired of not being allowed to have any. He grunted at the window and pushed himself off the couch to close the curtains. He took one last look at the number 1 on his phone before he headed in to bed.

Two Can Play At That Game

round and around and around we went
carousel stopping for none
the moments were passing, the time we spent
blurred in the peripheral hum
heart’s heavy drumming, an attempt to repent
but the moment was over and done
left lonely and clutching in our torment
ward away a wayward longing to run
my cheek on my shoulder, swollen and tense
eyes seeking chaos for sun
but everything’s merged and my fists are clenched
around the ride that’s supposed to be fun