Scars & Souvenirs

four

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A soft chiming noise echoes in the otherwise silent flat, but Max can’t reach for her phone. Her body won’t obey the commands her brain sends, muscles and joints turned to stone in the face of her fear. This is the quickest her life has ever gone ass-over-teakettle. She doesn’t know how she was found. She has done everything she possibly could to keep herself off the radar.

The car.

That damned Accord is the only thing new - besides the flat - in her life. At least with Dolly, Max had been able to use a name that wasn’t completely real, and the landlady hadn’t asked to see a license or anything. So going by Maxine Mollis had been easy enough. It wasn’t quite that simple with the car lot. And now that decision is coming back to ruin everything that she’s fought so hard for over the last two years.

Max has never stayed in one place for long. Not since the day that she left Ann Arbor. She spent three months in a run-down flat in Maine, four in the renovated garage of an old woman who lived in Oregon. Then there was the basement flat in Louisiana for five months, another four months in North Dakota. Colorado had been the longest she’s stayed anywhere. Seven whole months before her fears got to her.

And now it’s not even a full thirty days here, and she’s already being run from her latest home.

Another chime. Max drags her gaze to the screen.

Olivia has sent a message.

Olivia.

Olivia. Not -

Max forces herself to breathe as steadily as possible, and she manages to move. She fumbles for the phone, grabs it in a shaking hand. It takes a couple tries before she can input the correct PIN, but she does. The instant message app pops up within seconds.

Olivia says:
(08:34) Hey, M. Don’t know if you saw but Hank called a meeting for 2 your time.
(08:58) M?? Everything ok?

M says:
(09:01) Yeah everything is fine. Thanks for letting me know.

She doesn’t care. Not about the meeting. Not about Hank. Not about anything other than the fact that this is yet another place to say goodbye to. She is tired, so damn bone-deep tired, of running and looking over her shoulder. It’s unfair. It’s going to be the death of her, if he isn’t.

The meeting goes about as well as could be expected. Max struggles to focus on whatever her boss is saying, and his tone quickly grows frustrated over the line. She just… doesn’t care. It’s merely another thing in her life that isn’t going the way she planned. By the end of the call, Max very nearly wishes that Hank would just fire her.

She knows he won’t, though. He was a family friend, back when she had a family. He has done so much to make sure she has an income. He may even know some of the truth, but he has never mentioned knowledge of anything. He has only sent her manuscript after manuscript, paycheck after paycheck. And he doesn’t say anything when she changes her email address every couple of months.

Hank is a good man, a great man, and Max refuses to repay him for his kindness by doing less than what’s expected of her.

She gets the latest manuscript edited by midnight, makes a note in the internal chat system that she really dislikes Victorian romance novels, and sends it back to the author and Hank’s assistant’s inbox. Maggie sends a sad-face emoticon but congratulates Max on pushing through anyway. John tries to best her frustration, claiming that his project is way worse - Max is almost inclined to agree. The idea of some Wild West drama set in some future year in space is… unpalatable. But then again, so is a bodice-ripper with a predictable plot and trite dialogue that seems to have come straight from a Google search.

Max stares blankly at the wall the next morning, unable to muster up the motivation to get up. To start the day. The couch is her home now; it’s hard to refute that, when the cushions have begun to mold around the curve of her ass. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get the chance to just lie about: A knock sounds at the door, and she slowly shifts her gaze to the wood.

“Maxine? Are you home?”

Dolly. Max sighs and reluctantly pushes herself to her feet. Dolly smiles as soon as the door opens, but the smile slips once she sees Max’s face. Max swallows down her sigh and beats the older woman to speaking.

“Is something wrong?” Max asks, barely bites back a wince at the way her voice cracks.

“No, doll, nothing’s wrong, not really. I just, I gotta run some errands, and Sugar’s feeling mighty unhappy about being left home alone. Do you mind watching her for just a bit?”

“Uh… sure, I guess.”

“Thanks, you’re a godsend. She won’t need to go out, so you two can just relax until I get back. Thank you so much, doll-face!”

Dolly clicks her tongue, pointing into the flat, and Sugar carefully trots past Max. Max turns to watch the Rottweiler sniff around the living room then faces Dolly again. The landlady is watching her carefully, her expression smoothing out when she sees Max’s attention on her.

“Thanks again, Maxine. I really appreciate this!”

Dolly is gone before Max can say another word. She stares after the older woman for a moment, mind racing. She can’t quite figure out why Dolly came to her. Out of the five other tenants, Dolly asked the one she doesn’t really know to watch her dog. Max could be a psychopath for all Dolly knows. She’s not, but the fact remains that this is an imposition on Max’s part and a negligent oversight on Dolly’s.

She knows you’re lonely, a small voice whispers, and even in her own mind, the words drip with smugness.

“I’m not lonely,” she tells herself firmly, no matter how untrue it is.

“That’s good.”

Max nearly chokes on her tongue when the man across the hall comes to a stop at the top of the stairs. He smiles slightly, nods a quick hello, then heads to his own flat. He must remember that Max doesn’t do conversation. She doesn’t do any type of connection. Not any more.

Sugar is curled up against the arm of the sofa when Max closes the door and turns around. She leans against the doorframe, hunches in on herself, and stares at the calm dog who stares back. Sugar’s tail wags, just a little, and that’s all it takes for Max to crack.

She’s always wanted a dog of her own, but her dad was allergic so it was out of the question. Everything that came after moving out has made it impossible to have a pet; too much instability, too much risk. But here and now, she at least has the chance to see what it would have been like. So she drops to sit on the sofa and reaches out gingerly to let the dog sniff her fingers. Sugar bypasses the timid greeting completely - she launches herself closer to Max, sprawling across her lap, and exposes her belly for pets while licking at Max’s hand.

By the time Dolly comes back three hours later, Max has taken a quick nap with the Rottweiler stretched out next to her on the couch and got into a mild disagreement with Sugar about whether the dog can have the cherries that Max snacks on. Her clothes are already covered in short black hairs, but Max doesn’t mind. She ducks down to scratch lightly behind Sugar’s ears before watching them disappear behind Dolly’s door.

The flat is quiet, colder, now that she is alone again. Max locks the door and makes her way into the kitchen. She isn’t really hungry, hasn’t felt the urge to eat for so long. But what else is there to do?

_____________________


I miss you.

Come back.

Maaaaack, I know you’re reading these

It’s okay. I can wait. You’ll figure out soon enough that no one wants you anyway. Then where will you go?

Don’t worry, I’ll forgive you for this.

Her skin is too tight, cold and prickling, as Max nestles herself in the corner. Everything is a blur - whether it’s from the hyperventilating or her tears, she isn’t certain. Sobbing, she curls her body even tighter and fights back the urge to scream. Bile rises in her throat as her phone emits a soft ding, but there’s nothing in her stomach besides acid.

She hasn’t eaten in two days. She has barely been able to keep water down. Every time she’s tried, the food turned to dust in her mouth, coating her tongue in thick mush, and she had run to the toilet until her stomach was empty and aching. The emails keep coming, they won’t stop, he won’t stop. A week has passed since that first email, and he is proving over and over that he is relentless and won’t give up until he controls her. Again.

“No,” she mumbles into her knees, voice broken and raw, “no. Never again, no, no, no...”

But she knows. She can fight against this as much as she wants, but he will always win. He already is. She is living in fear because of him. Even when he’s not around, Gabriel is able to make her into his puppet.