Tag Archives: the media

Zina unSeen – Chapter 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You asked Roy?”

Zina hesitated and didn’t answer.

“Oh my god, Z.”

“It’s fine!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s wrong, Z?”

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

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

“Yeah,” Zina whispered.

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

“Good night,” she said softly.

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

“Good night.”

 

Zina unSeen – Chapter 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was down to five minutes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zina unSeen – Chapter 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 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 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you very much, sir,” he said.

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

Zina unSeen – Chapter 4

When Dean got off work, he headed in a random direction like he did every day. He thought that this would up his chances of running into Zina, in person, for the first time. He always took special note of the weather and how he felt as he left the FaceSpace building, knowing that he would want to commit every detail to memory if it did turn out to be the special occasion that he had been waiting for.

That afternoon, it was drizzling and chilly, and he was feeling a little bit down. He knew that he might be in trouble at work, and if he was forced to monitor another person, he wouldn’t be able to see Zina at all. What boring, aimless hell would his life be without any hint of her personality in it? He had seen some of the posts that other agents had to monitor. He would end up tearing his hair out with a demotion like that.

As gloomy as it was, he liked the cool rush of fresh air that came with the rain. He inhaled deeply and decided to head toward the waterfront, where he liked to spend countless hours looking out over the horizon and imagining himself in a different life. When Dean had first begun his career, he had honestly believed that he was going to make a difference. He saw vast potential for FaceSpace to be a way to bring great minds together to jump-start social progress.

However, as the years passed on, he began to realize that there were more sinister agendas at play. FaceSpace not only planned to keep track of all user information and profiles, but it also hoped to push people away from self-expression. It began with customizable features, and ended with multiple choice answers and check boxes that defines one’s personality. People went in looking like themselves, and came out looking like a marketing statistic. Dean had been working for a monster.

Worse yet, he wasn’t allowed to have any personal relationships whatsoever. His time was meant to be dedicated to his work. It was a very secretive organization, moreso since the government had learned about the technology and camped out in the office, ultimately making it their own headquarters. Since then, Dean’s orders were strict. The fewer people he kept incontact with, the better. No sensitive information would be leaked. And it was all very sensitive.

He had seen more than one agent carted away and taken to the loony bin because the pressure was just too high. Company picnics and socialization events had been put in place to prevent agents from losing their minds, but it was never enough to truly satiate their innate need for close bonds. They missed their families. Not only that, but they missed the option of making their own friends.

Dean thought he was still hanging in there, at least when compared to most of the other poor saps he used to know. His will was strong and what kept him going was knowing that whenever he went into work, he was assigned to the most interesting, beautiful woman in the world. Literally. FaceSpace Corporations hoped to have everybody linked into their network, and of every user on the interface, she was absolutely the most perfect.

He was lost in thought, gazing over the calming water, when he felt a dull pain on his shin. He looked down curiously and found himself staring straight into the shocking blue eyes of a goddess. Dean felt his heart jolt. It was as if he had been electrically charged so that every beat would release a surge throughout his body. She was right in front of him, scooping her plastic portfolio up and hoisting the strap over her shoulder.

“Sorry,” Zina said dully. She obviously wasn’t sorry at all. Neither was Dean.

He opened and closed his mouth. She was staring at him expectantly and began to shake her head in frustration. She probably thought he was being indignant. He could imagine her internal dialogue – “What the hell is this idiot’s problem? Did I mar the golden shin? It’s just plastic.”

Suddenly, the reality that she was right in front of him struck him hard and nearly brought him to his knees. Dean closed his gaping mouth, turned on his heel, and ran away.