Zina unSeen – Chapter 18

Lain hid out in her bedroom until Zina left for work the next morning. Once the apartment was clear, she emerged with a deep sigh and headed out to shower. She had just finished dressing for the day and was starting to make breakfast when she heard a knock at the door. She briefly worried that Zina had forgotten her keys and debated whether or not to answer. Ultimately, charitability won over contempt, and she slowly made her way to the door and asked who was there.

“It’s me,” a deep voice answered.

Lain instantly felt her anxiety melt away and she exhaled in relief.

“Karl!” she exclaimed, throwing the door open.

“Hello, Miss,” Karl said formally with a small nod. He had greeted her with the same formality since he had chauffeured her as a child. However, the smile on his face was soft and loving, just as it had always been, and she threw her arms around him in excitement.

“I’ve been wondering when you were going to stop by. You just missed Zina, she’s been working in the studio with Gwen. Remember her?”

“Oh, that’s a shame,” Karl said, wrinkling his nose. Lain laughed. Neither of them had been big fans of Gwen. She was a year older than Lain and their parents had insisted on putting them on many play-dates, most of which resulted with Lain in tears. Karl had to talk her through many childhood dramas, particularly when he would drive her home from Gwen’s family estate, where the girl felt particularly comfortable antagonizing Lain. She had mixed feelings about letting Zina work with her, but thought love and Zina’s business should outrank the past.

“How is Zina doing?”

“She’s okay. Come on in, Karl. I was just making breakfast. Would you like to have some tea with me?”

“Of course. It will be nice to have you serve me for a change,” he teased.

Lain laughed and they headed into the kitchen together.

“And how are you doing?” he asked her, sitting down on a stool at the small island counter.

She opened her mouth to reply, “Fine,” but her voice caught in her throat. She could never lie to Karl. He saw right through her.

Karl noticed her hesitation and perked up.

“What’s the matter?”

She suddenly felt self-conscious. She didn’t know what Karl would think of her feelings for Zina. She was sure that he had viewed the two like sisters, and himself as a father figure to both of them. She was reluctant to disillusion him about the dynamic of their funny little family. He accepted her, as gay as she was, but still, it was hard to talk about her personal feelings to anybody.

“Did something happen?” he guessed. “Are you pregnant?”

This caused her to burst out laughing, and Karl’s worried expression relaxed into a small smile.

“No,” she gasped. “I’m just having a rough time in my personal life.”

“Ah,” Karl nodded. “Tell me more.”

She looked into his steady brown eyes and sighed. Before she knew it, the whole story was spilling out and Karl listened quietly. When she was done, she was in tears again, and worried that Karl might never see the two in the same paternal way.

“I know you’ve gone above and beyond,” Karl said softly.

Lain sniffled and nodded, bracing herself for the possibility of his disapproval.

“I’m not sure you could ever understand how life has affected her,” he said quietly. “You know, my father would beat me up a lot, and I still can’t form relationships with people very easily. Deep down, I’m a very lonely man who is very scared of showing my heart to people. I think Zina might be the same way.”

“Yeah, but do you think she loves me?”

Karl inhaled deeply.

“I think you’re the most important person in the world to her.”

“Yeah, but, like a girlfriend?”

“You’re more than that, Lain. Don’t be selfish.”

Lain prickled and furrowed her eyebrows. Selfish was the last thing she had always been with Zina.

“Why can’t she just say it then?”

“Do you know what I see in Zina, versus what I see in you?” Karl asked. Lain shook her head, clearly still miffed.

“You’re not afraid of anything. It’s admirable. But in Zina, I see a terrified little girl who doesn’t trust so much as the ground she walks on. Who feels like every choice she makes is the wrong one and every step she takes will cause the earth to open up at her feet and swallow her whole. She doesn’t want to take you down with her. And I think you should respect that. Understand that. And don’t give up on her.”

“But I can’t do this anymore, Karl. It’s not fair. It’s not my burden.”

“No, that is absolutely true. But there’s one last thing you can do, and as the closest person to her, I think you should try. Do you know what helped me?”

Lain shook her head.

“I started getting counseling. My father died and my mother insisted it would be good for us both. So I went to humor her. But you know what? I’ve learned more about myself in six months than I had figured out in sixty-eight years. I’m actually happy.” He looked at her slyly. “I even have a girlfriend.”

“You do not!” Lain gasped, slapping his shoulder with a dish towel. “What is she like?”

“Amazing,” he said. “And you know what? For the first time in my life, I feel like I deserve that.”

“So Zina needs therapy?” Lain asked, frowning.

“She needs more than you could ever give her is what I’m saying. The only chance she has is to help herself.”

They sat in silence as Karl’s words sunk into Lain. They chatted a while longer, and Karl gave her updates about her parents and their whereabouts. Apparently they were in Greece for some reason. Neither of them cared enough to ask why. Eventually, he glanced down at his watch.

“Well, I’d best be going. I’ve got some errands to run. When will Zina be done with her project with Gwen?”

He said Gwen’s name with a wrinkled nose and Lain giggled.

“In another week or two.”

“I’m going to swing by to see her, I’ve missed you both so much,” he informed her. “Thank you for the tea.”

They stood, and she embraced him. He hugged her, tightening his grip when he felt her sniffle sadly against him. She peered up at him with a bright smile.

“Thank you for listening to me,” she said.

“Thank you for trusting me,” he replied. “The longer you keep things buried, the more toxic they become. You should always let out your feelings, Lain. It’s the only way to get anywhere.”

She nodded and walked Karl to the door, her mind reeling with thoughts of Zina and her abuse. The two said good bye and Lain headed back toward the kitchen to clean up. She paused thoughtfully in front of a clunky yellow phonebook. Zina had brought it home months ago for a collage. She began flipping through, hoping against hope that there was a chance for the one she loved to truly be happy. She would do whatever it took.

 

Zina unSeen – Chapter 17

Dean ran back toward his parent’s house from the library, his heart racing. His hands still shook from the lengthy message he had written to Zina. It was as if everything he knew about her had culminated into the perfect prose, and he couldn’t wait to see if he would hear back from her. He was nervous about being rejected, but he knew this would be a much safer opening than trying to talk to her in person. There was so much he wanted to say to her, but he couldn’t risk blurting anything out. This way, he could carefully select his words and appear to her to be as articulate and caring as he actually was. It was perfect.

He knew he couldn’t keep this up for long, though. The FaceSpace agents would be after him soon, probably within the next couple of days, to issue him a new phone. They would be wondering why they hadn’t heard from him, and would probably come right to his parent’s door once they realized he had dropped off the radar. There was some sort of protocol. He knew he would have to leave the comfort and security of his parent’s home sooner than he felt he was ready for, and it would break his mother’s heart. The thought almost made him lose his composure right in the middle of the sidewalk.

Finally, he reached the familiar door of his childhood home and let himself in quietly. His mother always made sure he had an updated version of the key, and he didn’t want either of them to know he had gone anywhere. If he got caught by the FaceSpace agents, any suspicious activity could be his downfall. Fortunately, his parents had gone to bed shortly after dinner. They were the types of people who believed in early to bed, early to rise. His father’s family had been farmers, and the old man strictly adhered to the rules of his youth and forced his family to do the same. It was only 7:30 when the elderly couple began their bedtime routine, and Dean had gone upstairs too. He had nothing better to do than sleep.

Dean quietly made it up to his bedroom. He undressed quickly before hopping back into bed in his mother’s crisp pajamas. He felt both crushed and elated. All the familiar smells and sounds of home made him happier than anything in the world. But soon he would have to hit the road and take on a dangerous journey to find his soulmate. If he wasn’t so sure Zina was worth it, he would simply stay put within the comfort of home.

When morning arrived, Dean felt his heart lurch as the previous night’s events slowly began to take form in his mind. A feeling of dread consumed him, and he kept expecting an agent to pop out of nowhere to tell him what a bad thing he had done. However, no such thing happened, and he gradually allowed himself the tendrils of excitement his body experienced whenever he thought about his message to Zina. He had a good feeling about it, but between his anxiety and his reluctance to leave home after finally just getting there, he spent the morning in a grim mood.

His father, who was especially adept at sensing when his son was down, immediately swooped in like a vulture once they were all settled at the table.

“How was your night?” He asked. “You like sleeping in your kiddie room? Didn’t wet the bed again, did ya?”

Dean glowered and his father sneered.

“Of course not,” he said, holding his father’s gaze. There was something much more assertive and steely in his demeanor, and it seemed to cause his father to shirk away from the conversation. Dean’s mother bustled into the kitchen, carrying a grocery bag bursting with milk and eggs. She took a look at the men at the table and quickly looked away.

“I’m making French toast, Dean,” she said cheerfully.

His father scoffed.

“Oh hush, Jasper. You know it’s my favorite, and I almost never make it because you don’t like it. I know how important it is to you for the whole family to have a unified meal, and frankly it’s not worth the fuss. Just today I’d like to have french toast with my son if you don’t mind.”

“Well hell, Mary, you don’t have to go on some sort of crusade about it. Just make the damned toast. I’ll have eggs.”

“Great,” Dean’s mother said edgily, turning to the counter to prepare the food.

Dean’s father buried his nose into the newspaper until breakfast was served. Dean’s mother sat across from him at the table. As they ate, he studied her closely. She was aging rapidly. Compared to the last time he had seen her, she looked almost a hundred years older. Her eyes were still kind though, and he felt desperate to turn back the clocks to long before he ever heard of FaceSpace. Back to a time when he was a boy and she seemed immortal and strong. Her deterioration alarmed him, and a huge lump in his throat formed as he attempted to swallow the last bite of his french toast.

His father, ever alert to all things weak, turned a keen eye to him.

The subtle gesture caused Dean to go rigid, and suddenly he had had enough. He found himself overwhelmed by a thousand different things. The unfairness of his father’s resentment. The endless bounds of his mother’s love. The inevitability of his mother’s death. The harsh fact that soon he would be leaving her once again, and may never be able to return. The intensity of his longing for Zina, and the pain and humiliation he felt from their confrontation. His boss, whose smugness reminded him of his father, and the psychological torture of being an agent for FaceSpace. It seemed the odds were stacked against him. Right at the kitchen table, Dean started to cry.

His mother looked at him in alarm, and his dad began to laugh uncontrollably.

“What the hell’s the matter with you, boy?” he exclaimed. Dean’s mother glared at him.

“Why don’t you hush, Jasper?”

Jasper snorted and Dean stood abruptly and ran away from the table. His father cackled, calling Dean names in between loud bursts of laughter, and Dean’s mother rose from her chair.

“You don’t have a nice bone in your body, do you?” she asked, pulling her apron off and throwing it on the table between them.

Jasper quieted, eyeing her curiously, and she ran from the kitchen after her youngest son.

She found him on the porch, gripping his unpacked suitcase tightly.

“Oh no, you’re going?”

“Just for a while, Ma. I can’t stay in the same house with him.”

“When will you be back?”

“I don’t know,” Dean whispered.

His mother didn’t ask him to stay. She understood as much as she could, and hugged him closely to her. He sniffled quietly against her comforting body, and she kissed his forehead.

“You take care, now,” she said to him softly. “Give me a call when you get home.”

“Sure, Ma. I love you.”

“I love you too, honey.”

They exchanged pained smiles and Dean walked down the street with his suitcase.  He felt suddenly lost, before he remembered the light at the end of the tunnel. Zina. He was overcome with a powerful determination to talk to her. He had to make sure that she would be the best thing to ever happen to him. She had to be. Dean headed toward the library, where he would be able to check his FaceSpace page in peace.

Zina unSeen – Chapter 16

As Lain started winding down on the drums, Zina sighed deeply and headed to her bedroom. She sat at her small desk and flipped her laptop open to log into FaceSpace. She had three new messages. The first was from her little brother Alan, who was asking if she could bring him and their mother some money for groceries. She replied, “Sure,” and closed the messaging box with his face on it. The next message was one that Lain had sent earlier in the day.

“I’m going for it, wish me luck.”

Zina’s heart lurched and she fought back a pang of nausea. That had been sent during the part of the day when Lain didn’t hate her. It was crazy to think that just that morning they had been laughing together, and now they weren’t even speaking. The message seemed so sad, blinking to be read, before whatever hell Lain had gone through had happened.

She heaved a heavy sigh and hit the little X in the corner of the box to close it. Lain’s grinning face disappeared and Zina’s eyes watered. She wasn’t sure she could process her feelings about her friend right now. For as long as she remembered, she liked imagining if she was happy or what it would be like if she and Lain were together. She didn’t know what had always held her back, but there was something. They could be about as normal as a creative lesbian couple could be, but there was something about it that felt wrong. The more she tried to think about it, the more confused she became.

Lain hadn’t pushed it with her, not even once, at least not until tonight. But she had been right. Zina knew perfectly well how Lain felt about her. And it was even worse because Zina was pretty sure that once upon a time, she had been the one who felt it first. It wasn’t a question in her mind whether or not she loved Lain. She was just terrified of the implications of losing the only relationship that had ever meant anything to her. Why shouldn’t she be? Every other relationship she had been in or had with another person just resulted in pain or bullshit. It was safer to keep her at a distance. The one beautiful thing in her life would only be ruined if she got too close. There was something tainted about her.

The last message in her inbox didn’t have a photograph. She frowned and opened it, unable to restrain her curiosity. Her eyes widened when a lengthy email presented itself. Soon she was immersed in the words. They flowed like poetry, and appealed to her on a deep, almost primal level. When she was done reading it, her heart was thudding and she had to take a deep inhale before she read it again. The name signed at the bottom was a simple initial. D.

She went to the beginning of the email again, her mind whirling. She briefly wondered if “D” might be Damien, but the fact was that Damien couldn’t articulate so much as his own signature on a receipt. The man seemed to be speaking to her on a thousand different levels. He made it clear that he was interested in talking to her more in depth. He claimed he had seen her face on his friend’s FaceSpace account and felt like fate had brought them together. He went on to express his personal view of the universe, which was so beautifully and poetically put that it could have been taken right out of her own head. At the end, he requested simply, “Maybe we can be friends.”

Zina shook her head in disbelief. It was as if the man was a physical embodiment of her own thoughts, but coming out of the mouth of a total stranger. Maybe there really was such a thing as fate. She hovered over his friend request for a moment before firmly clicking, “Make Friends.”

 

Zina unSeen – Chapter 15

Dean finished his dinner before retiring to his old bedroom for the night. It was just as he remembered it. His mother had made sure that nothing was out of place and that Dean’s old baseball card collection was dusted every other day. He really loved his mother, and he could tell that she really loved him too. Before he went up to bed, she had handed him a clean, crisply folded pair of pajamas and kissed his cheek. He never wanted to leave her.

She had worked really hard to make sure that her boys were taken care of, even though her husband was unhappy that she was working out of home. He said it made him look bad, and every once in a while his parents would have ugly fights that kept him up half the night. It was mostly his father’s voice carrying through the house that dominated the conversation, sometimes spliced with the sounds of his mother’s weeping. He had gone to comfort her before, but after a swift smack in the head by his father, Dean had since chosen to listen from a distance.

As he lay in bed, his thoughts returned to Zina, who was constantly on his mind. He felt less angry and bitter toward her now, and wished only for the chance to check her FaceSpace page. There was an endless compulsion in him to discover what was going on in her life. He knew nobody could ever understand her the way that he did. He must truly be in love with her.

He closed his eyes, imagining her face, and what he wished he would have said instead of running away. He had just been so embarrassed and overwhelmed that he hadn’t known what else to do. An acute feeling of dread had siezed him. What if she thought he was ugly? What if she thought he was boring? What if she didn’t feel the same way about him? And then the truth struck him hard. Of course she wouldn’t feel the same way about him. She had never even spoken to him. And so he had fled.

He longed to take it back – that embarrassing act of cowardice. He clenched his fist and pounded it against his fluffy white pillow with a dull thud. What could he do about it now? What would his life be like without Zina in it? She was so beautiful. So smart and funny. She was the perfect human being. He would be surprised if she had any flaws at all. But now he couldn’t monitor her for FaceSpace. What was he supposed to do now?

Suddenly, a lightning bolt of clarity struck and he sat upright in bed, staring with wide eyes out his window. He knew what he had to do. He wasn’t in the city. There were no FaceSpace agents breathing down his neck. He rolled around, feigning discomfort, and then grabbed his phone off the end table and headed for the bathroom. Dean left the lights off (the FaceSpace agents could access the recordings from the camera on his phone) and sat the device carefully on the edge of the sink before pushing the toilet seat up.

He reached toward the sink, as if to retrieve the phone, and let it slip from the sink and smash against the toilet. Dean could hear the screen shatter into thousands of pieces before it plopped into the toilet with a little splash. He cursed loudly, in case they could hear him, before pursing his lips and proceeding to urinate on the phone. He watched as the glow of the screen went from illuminating the toilet bowl to slowly darkening, and grinned to himself. Bye, bye FaceSpace.

Now he was a free agent. He thought carefully about his next move. He had to contact Zina. But he couldn’t do it from his parent’s house. That was too dangerous. No, he would have to find a computer elsewhere. And not just to check her updates. No, he was going to talk to her. He would do it right this time. He strutted back to his bedroom and laid back down, feeling better than he had in years. Everything was going to work out.

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.”