Scars & Souvenirs

two

Max groans at the first hint of sunlight coming through the windows. She’d fallen asleep quickly last night, but the tiniest of noises kept waking her through the night. The unfamiliarity of the apartment had lent a discomforting, almost eerie, aura to the place. Every time a neighbour so much as sniffled, or a car passed outside, she was jerking to full alertness with her heart pounding hard enough that she couldn’t breathe.

She kept expecting the front door to burst open at any second, to be dragged from the relative safety of her new place and back into that Hell.

Sleeping on the couch hadn’t helped. It’s only served to exacerbate the aches and pains from moving in yesterday. Sighing, she tugs the blankets over her head and tries to go back to sleep. She has no idea what time it is, but her body tells her it is too early - even if the clock said it was noon, it would be far too early to wake up.

Unfortunately, the neighbours seem to have not gotten the memo. Footsteps outside her door cause Max to tense up, but then they’re passing by, fading as whoever it is goes downstairs. Kids stomp around over her head, their screeching loud even through the floor, and someone is listening to opera at too high of a volume. Max hates this place already.

She shoves the blankets back and pads on silent feet to the kitchen. The lasagna isn’t nearly as delicious when it’s still cold. She manages to eat a few bites before stuffing the dish into the refrigerator, closing the door on the emptiness inside. Grabbing the cheap no-contract phone she’d purchased at a Walmart somewhere between here and Colorado, Max opens up the Notes app and starts making a list of groceries she’ll need to get if she doesn’t want to starve without relying on her neighbours.

It takes a lot longer than she expected to get the list typed out and organised by type and importance. Max supposes that’s the risk one runs when starting completely over. She sets her phone aside and makes her way back to the living room, the multitude of boxes that wait to be unpacked. And unpacking is the perfect way of spending the day.

By the time she’s cleared out the final box, it’s long past three in the afternoon, and Max is utterly exhausted again. She almost doesn’t want to go to the market, but she can’t go without buying food. She hesitates then ultimately decides to rest up a bit before she goes.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I don’t know why I even write these fucking letters any more. It’s not like you’ll ever get them. And god, that hurts. You know? You’re my parents. I’m supposed to be able to talk to you about everything, and you’re supposed to be here for me. This all sucks. I hate it that I don’t have you any more.

Anyway, because I say that all the damn time…

Got a new place. Again. It’s small, not the greatest, but it’s clean, in one piece, and safe. That’s what’s important, right? My safety. It’s on the outskirts of Santa Barbara, which I’ve been told (mostly by Psych, but whatever) is a beautiful city. It’s a lot more expensive than I anticipated, but the landlady seems to not give a damn about the city’s costs around her. Only $900 a month for a one-bed? Consider me sold. Besides, I have savings - does a duffel bag of cash count as savings? Or is my bank account the only one that has any importance?

Wish you guys could be here.

Love your daughter, always,
Mack ‘n Cheese

Max brushes the tears from her eyes, folds the paper, and unlocks the safe. The file folder is already stuffed full with hundreds of letters similar to the one she’s just finished, all words she wishes she could say to her parents but will never have the chance to. All the fears she’s carried, put into ink on paper and left in a safe with their companions because they can’t ever reach their recipients.

This isn’t fair, and the injustice of it makes her want to scream. Everything was taken from her, her entire life was upended by a situation she had no hope of controlling. Now she’s paying the cost and struggling to keep one step ahead as the world spins on around her.

Scratching at an itch on her shoulder, Max heads to the bedroom to change from the pyjamas she’s worn since she showered yesterday. She digs through the pile of clothes she’d unceremoniously dropped onto the floor by the closet, coming up after a few minutes with a threadbare T-shirt and a pair of jeans that barely fit her; her search for a belt is unsuccessful, so Max blows out a breath and folds the waistband of her jeans until they fit snugly against her hips.

She makes sure to check the locks on the windows, pull the curtains tightly together, and leaves no evidence of who she is on her way to the front door. If anyone were to examine the flat, they won’t know the inhabitant is Max. They’d think it was some college kid out on their own for the first time. It’s what’s best, she knows it. She can’t help but wish things could be different. That she could have paintings and photographs on the walls, furniture that wasn’t purchased from a thrift shop and will end up at a Goodwill when it’s time to move on...

Max blinks back tears as she gathers up her keys and wallet, slipping the strap around her wrist before stepping out onto the landing. A door slams downstairs, someone shouts. She twitches at the sound but doesn’t hide away. Instead, she locks her door with shaking hands and turns toward the stairs.

“Oh. Hello.”

Max swallows the squeak, nodding at the man climbing the stairs. His shirt has come partially untucked, bunched up a bit at the waist of his dark-washed jeans, and the messenger bag that hangs from his shoulder threatens to spill its contents as he steps off the top stair. With his dishevelled dark hair and bright blue eyes, he looks like the type of trouble she would have fallen headfirst into.

Before.

Not now.

“Just moved in, yeah?”

“Yeah. Ye-yesterday.”

“Ah. You’ll love it here. Dolly is a gem, she’s saved my arse a few times.”

He’s too chatty, charming, and the smile he sends her way could melt ice within seconds. It is warm and wide and perfect. If she gave him the chance, he would have no problem tearing through the walls that protect her. Max ducks her head and grits her teeth.

Trouble.

That’s all he is - trouble that can kill her. Trouble that she can’t afford. So she brushes past him, hurries down the stairs, and lets the front door close on his confused “Bye?”