Tag Archives: fiction

Zina unSeen – Chapter 26

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

Mr. Brown looked up from his desk sharply.

“You know where Dean is?” he asked.

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

“Do you have photo evidence?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Bus?” Mr. Brown said incredulously.

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

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

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

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

“Of course, sir.”

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

“Of course, right away.”

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

“Yes, sir?” he asked, turning around.

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

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

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

“Right away, sir.”

“You’re dismissed.”

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

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

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

Zina unSeen – Chapter 24

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

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

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

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

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

 

Zina unSeen – Chapter 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love you, Ma.”

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

“What?”

“I left your father.”

“What?!”

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

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

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

“I sure will, Ma.”

“Good boy. Talk to you soon.”

“Yup. Bye.”

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

Zina unSeen – Chapter 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 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 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 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 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.