A/N - okay forget long introductions lol. Point our errors and stuff if you end up reading this. I know, the summary is crapolski but, for what it's wroth, I think it's worth a read. And I WILL FINISH THIS!


ONE:
Rebels, bitches, and freaks.

The cellphone had been shut. The retreat deeper into the trees, crouching, had been successful. About ten minutes had passed since the phone call. She'd watched the guy glide his arm over what she'd assumed to be the final word of whatever phrase he was spraying. Either way, it would be the last word he sprayed, considering what she'd just done.

Maria Suarte believed in equality and the word fairness. That's why, once she had done something bad—like "borrowed" money from her mother's wallet and blew off previous engagements—she almost immediately did something good—like anonymously tip the police to vandalism-in-action.

Shouts broke into the warm August air. Tempers flared and a dispute formed. Two male officers had arrived and were now attempting to lead the guy away. They managed to get a hold on him. He slithered out of their arms somehow and ran straight towards—shit, straight towards where Maria was hiding!

She was cradling her knees amongst the bushes, completely frozen—maybe he wouldn't see her if she stayed perfectly—

The convict cussed as the bigger, muscular cop slammed into him, landing them both a few feet from the makeshift hideout among the bushes. That was too close, she thought.

Yes, it seemed painful, and she understood the stranger's frustration . . . but this was for her mother. To balance out Maria's karma, she had to appease her mother. She was doing this for her mother.

And not just to relieve her own guilt . . . right?

She watched as the baggy-clothed, shady man tried to go limp in the two officers' arms—as they pinned him to a wall causing his hood to fly off—as a quick white speck landed on his head—as the guy resisted—

Wait. What the hell was that white speck?

Maria attempted to trace it back to its source and guessed it fell from the bridge—and suddenly, she met another pair of eyes, just . . . staring directly at her.

Anna-Kay, that bitch.

Of course it was her, omnipresent as ever . . . but now her mouth was moving.

Who the hell was she talking to?

Only for three seconds, tops, did they hold each other's gazes as Anna-Kay soon focused on her unknown accomplice, apparently hiding below the wall. Then, Kay glanced to the main performance between the officers and the rebel and began saying more shit to her friend.

Following her gaze, the rebel seemed to calm down. Relatively. He was still shouting at the sturdy officers, leaning against the wall.

When Maria looked back, Kay ducked down.

Anyway, Maria's eyes slid back towards the main action: As the officers forcefully guided him to, what Maria assumed, their police vehicle, the burly officer cuffed him. The rebel had apparently been trying to shove off their controlling grips. Then, the other officer took off, and apparently asked the heavier one to wait with the rebel while he did something. The man was looking around the vicinity. His eyes occasionally passed over the general direction of Maria. She dearly hoped all he saw were the biking trail, the bushes and trees, and the tiny creek of sewage water.

She felt someone staring. Right as Maria caught Kay atop the bridge, she disappeared again.

When Maria looked back at the main attraction, she could only see one cop and the shady guy.

And then, a few seconds later, something caught her attention at the bridge. One head was there, then suddenly two heads—the second one, it looked—Dakota.

Of course.

Before Maria could get a better look, Dakota flew out of sight again. Constantly fleeing, like the rat she was. Anna-Kay, however, was still examining the action, eyes peeping over the wall. She couldn't help but liken the two to a great game of whack-a-mole.

Kay and Dakota were the same age as Maria, but they could have been a different species for all things valuable about the two groups.

Where Maria was an individual and a hard-worker, Dakota was a slacker and the epitome of conformity. Kay survived through social interaction whereas Maria was fine with being alone some times. Where Dakota made sure that she was always walking the correct, totally hip shuffle-like-I-don't-care walk, Maria took powerful, determined strides. Kay made sure she said the right words and used the right trends while Maria spoke her mind and clawed her way out of the casket that was typical teenage society.

Most prominently, Maria knew that those two bitch clones—Anna-Kay and Dakota—were always together. The only way they received oxygen was by breathing into each other's mouths, the suburban whores.

Maria hated them—their whole gang—no, their whole type; she was pretty sure they hated her, too.

Yes, Maria was a badass when she wanted to be: she could backtalk, she could shove, throw a punch, steal, all when the opportunity called for it.

But Dakota was a thief on a whole different playing field. Maria knew Dakota all too well—she was the type to do anything to climb the social ladder—the type to do anything for attention—the type to start fires just to look good when putting them out. This included stealing Parker from Maria.

But it was cool. Parker was a joke now, anyways. What a fickle, spineless worm of a man—no, a boy—Parker had been.

Only after a minute of staring into space did Maria take note of the missing Anna-Kay. The two gremlins were gone. Shit. She didn't like this—she didn't trust them—especially that conniving Anna-Kay.

Crunch.

Abruptly, there was a rustling of leaves a few inches from Maria. She almost screamed, but quickly realized it was only that wandering officer she missed the last time she checked. Wait, it was just the officer—what and why was he—?

The sound of a zip, then fluid pattering through leaves and onto soil answered her question.

Making her way past damp leaves that swiped at her dirty sneakers, Maria fled the scene, torn between wanting to laugh, vomit and/or scream.


An hour or so later, after spending the remainder of the two hundred (which she had swiped from her mother) at McDonalds, Maria whipped out her iPod and glanced at the time presented on the cover. 6:52 P.M. the display read.

This was good. The Daniels should have left almost twenty minutes ago. Earlier, if everything went according to Maria's plan (and if everything went amiss according to her mothers).

She foraged her pockets—because Maria didn't carry purses or bags—for her house keys and carefully unlocked the door, as if the wrong twist of the hand would start the timer for a nuclear bomb.

She quietly, agonizingly slowly shut the door. (And the timer began.)

Five: she slipped off her run-down sneakers.

Four: she checked herself in the shoe-closet mirror to purge any evidence that indicated what had been her actual location—anywhere but the library, very different to what she'd told her mother.

Three: She curled her toes and attempted to tip-toe down a dim hallway which was only lit by the kitchen light, where her monster-of-a-mother surely resided.

Two: she avoided that one creaky wooden panel, as usual.

One: she stubbed her toe on the first step of the staircase . . . as freaking usual.

And the bomb goes off, right about—

"Maria?" Her perennially angry mother shuffled into the hallway. "Is that you?"

And the lights were flicked on. Though they were just average CFL's, they felt like spotlights; the staircase felt like the scene of a crime; and her mother was suddenly more prison warden than she was parent.

"Who the hell do you think you are?"

Maria's mother grunted, boxing her daughter's ears, then yanking her by the arm away from the staircase—away from the bomb shelter, so to speak.

"Get your ass in that kitchen before I throw it there, myself."

Maria shoved her mother's arm off of her only to receive a clean slap across the face. It used to sting. But Maria was stronger now. Instead of retaliating like she usually did, she found herself satisfied with a simple yet definitive "Don't touch me".

Ms. Suarte grabbed her wrist. "You're my daughter," she twisted it, bent it to a painful angle, causing Maria to wince, "and I can touch you however I please." She shoved her into the kitchen.

Maria glumly sat down at a small table by the sliding doors, fixing her gaze on her holey socks. She knew what was coming and, whether she ran up to her room or not, she would face her mother one day or another.

"You little thief. The library charges you an entrance fee, do they?"

"Well, if you have an overdue book—"

"For a fucking millennium, Maria?" her mother snapped. She was clearly not in the mood for sarcasm. "Two hundred dollars? You left my wallet empty."

Silence for a few seconds. Maria sniffed.

"Not going to talk? Pretend that you didn't do it? As if this isn't the fiftieth time this fucking year?"

Maria suddenly found herself crying out in pain with hot tears at the corners of her eyes; her mother had ferociously tugged at Maria's wavy brown-black hair.

"I thought I said you had to marinate the freaking meat?"

The painful grip was loosened, only because Ms. Suarte shoved her head forward. And the lecture began.

"And what about the floors? Bathrooms? Kitchen? I come home, thinking that everything's set and I don't have to worry about the Daniels. Just at work, chopping some vegetables, slicing the meat, silly me." She was pacing. She was so angry. Maria hadn't seen this anger in a long time. "While you ran around the fucking city.

'Oh, don't worry yourself Theresa,' I told myself. 'She's just going to the library and it won't take that long and she'll be back at the house in time to do all of the small things I asked of her!'

No. I come home and ask Jake where you are, and he says you didn't come home yet, and the house was looking like shit, the meats tasting like shit, and me missing two hundred bucks."

Maria just had to cut in here; otherwise she would lose the rebuttal in her mind if her mother continued to rant. "Then why didn't you ask Jake to clean, huh? Or what about Emmanuel; why can he do whatever the hell he wants all the time with his fucking girlfriend Janine?"

Theresa was fuming as she screamed, "Because I told you to do it, Maria!" It took absolute control of every cell in her mother's body to stop her hands just barely an inch away from Maria's neck.

Theresa took advantage of the silence that ensued, retracted her hands, and continued.

"Had to clean—myself. Cook—myself. Do everything—myself. You didn't do as I asked, and the main dish wasn't ready, so I had to order a couple of platters from Nand's Catering. My boss picked up the phone, too, confused. But no, it wasn't that simple, the solution is never that simple. How embarrassed I was when the food I ordered arrived at the door, and my wallet was empty. I couldn't even pay for it.

"So let's review: Potential customers and our neighbors arrived to a pig sty-looking house; the food I planned to serve wasn't ready; I had to order from the very place I work at; and I couldn't pay for it. Oh, there's more, Maria. Had to drive all the way to the bank, of course.

"When I came back, the Daniels were chatting with the damned delivery guy! The whole evening was a disaster because of my stupid idiot daughter"—she shoved her daughter's head forward once more—"who does nothing but steal and run away to some stupid acting shit two cities away! That could've cost me my promotion—"

That strike was uncalled for, and Maria piped up—"It's not stupid, it's—" but her mother struck her before she could finish.

"The hell, 'it's not stupid'! You make me look like a clown and then you come home a few minutes after they leave as if nothing's wrong!"

Her mother began pacing, biting on her finger, supporting this elbow with her other arm. She shook her head, as if denying the tears that were streaming down her face.

Whatever. So melodramatic, as usual. Maria rolled her eyes with forced contempt and settled on the digital oven clock. It struck 7:01 P.M. just as she glanced at it.

"Maria, why do you do this?" Ms. Suarte grabbed the corner of the island as if for support. She looked at her daughter, eyes almost pleading, beseeching for an answer. "Why is everything turning into such a . . . such a mess?"

And, unexpectedly, a punch of guilt. As Maria averted her eyes, she suddenly thought about her father. The challenges of being a single parent. She wanted to despise her mother, but she just couldn't. Not when she said shit like that.

"I'm sorry," Maria attempted in a steady voice. Not truly sorry, but not truly heartless. Calm. She just had to appear undeterred. "I didn't know—"

"No. You never know, Maria—you never learn." And all of a sudden, Maria could grip her default hatred more easily. "If it meant that much to you, you should have told—"

"But I did tell you, Ma!" she sprung out of her seat.

"You lied," she responded without looking up.

"I told you weeks ago, that I had this stuff to do, and I asked if you could let me go, and I'd handle transportation myself, and you wouldn't even have to drive me. But you wouldn't let me, you never do!" A few seconds of silence was all she received, where Maria's temper only grew. With a crack in her voice, she uninhibitedly screamed, "You made me lie to you!"

Her mother slowly raised her head and tried to maintain balance without the island's assistance.

"It's over Maria. It's done." Defeated, she threw an invisible deck of cards into the air. "This day's over—I don't want to fight with you."

No, Maria was sick of this bullshit. Every time she had something valid to say, her mother would just walk away; she'd never listen.

Theresa strode out of the kitchen, but was halted by—

"I don't wanna fight either!" Maria stormed after her mother and left only a foot of space between their gazes. "You think this is all I do? You think I like the arguing? You think I don't want some peace and fucking quiet for a change?"

Her mother stared at her. Vacant eyes, deaf ears. She didn't listen. She never listened. "Fine. Okay." She turned, and placed a hand on the staircase banister. "Just eat the leftovers, then."

No. It wasn't going to end like this.

"No, I'm not hungry. I already ate at—"

"It's okay. Fine."

Her mother never listened. She didn't care about where or what Maria had eaten. She instead inhaled through her nose, exhaled through the mouth, screwed her eyes shut and wiped away the remaining tears. "We'll deal with this later," was all.

That's what she always said when she meant, Let's just forget this ever happened and wait until we're forced to bring it up again when another argument strikes.

"Ma, I said I'm sorry—"

"Please," her mother interrupted, holding her free hand up in surrender. "Just . . . I need to sleep. It was an important point in my career, it messed up. I need to sleep."

And her mother gently climbed the staircase, as if a loud noise would snap her balance in half.

Fuck that bitch.

Although she hated her mother sometimes, Maria really was genuinely sorry this time. She was. Because her mother was right. That's why Maria believed in fairness so strongly. She was impulsive, she should have seen that her actions would have affected her mother. But she didn't. She never did. Never considered the other person's feelings or perspective.

But was she really at fault? Her mother never listened to her, even when Maria truly meant what she said—like an apology. She just wanted compromise. Just . . . compromise. Would it kill her mother to meet her daughter halfway?

Even though Maria prevented further vandalism of the underside of Jenning's Bridge, Jenning's Bridge would never help her mother. All she managed to do was piss off some poor spray-painting hobo (or whatever he was) by getting him arrested.

Deep down, Maria knew this—she simply refused to believe that her problems weren't solved so conveniently.

Absolutely exasperated, Maria flopped down on the living room's sofa and flicked on the television. She was watching wrestling. She knew it was fake, but she loved to criticize the terrible acting. She kind of liked the fight scenes some times. Her favorite part was muting the TV and speaking on behalf of the overly ripped actors, saying absolute bullshit under her breath.

Now, she wasn't really watching anything. Just staring at the physical screen.

"Hey."

Maria snapped to attention. "Huh? Oh, hey, Jake."

"What the hell was that all about?" Her twelve-year old brother took a seat on the sofa across from her.

"Just . . . it was nothing, man." She didn't even look at him.

"That was some loud nothing. Woke me up." He was squinting, apparently trying to make out the words of the muted wrestlers.

"Then go back to sleep."

"I'm not tired."

"Okay."

"Where did you go, anyways? You never tell me."

Maria didn't want to deal with her little brother right now. She just couldn't take his pestering, so she did what any mature, older sister would have done: ignored him.

"Fine," he eventually muttered, and silently padded back up the stairs.

Thoughts were running through her mind.

First, of the volunteer acting workshop she took part in earlier today. Her school mandated a minimum ten hours of volunteer work in order to graduate, so Maria decided to help kids learn how to act. It was fun.

Then, of her hour-long bussing both to and from. Some crazy people use the bus nowadays, she couldn't help but notice.

Then, of the vandal she had busted. Sucks to be him right now.

And then of her mother. The Daniels. How laughably terrible the night must have played out. The catering opportunity that probably won't go through.

The Daniels had always hosted big events, and her mother must've blown such a big opportunity.

Or . . . Maria screwed it up for her.

She couldn't take it. The guilt.

She flicked off the television and sprung to her feet. She wanted to do something. She looked in the fridge—okay, good; no more milk. They were running out of eggs, too. A bottle of ginger ale wouldn't hurt anyone, either. She knew her mother loved that stuff.

Glancing at the time displayed on the oven (8:32 P.M.), she thought about going to get some of that crap. The closest convenience store was about twenty walking-minutes away.

Maria quietly ran up to her room, slid on a sweatshirt (she was feeling chilly and empty despite the contrasting, humid temperature outside) and then slid on her sneakers.

Right before she left, as a last-second addition, she decided to force some of her mother's cooking down her throat. She still wasn't hungry and the food swam uncomfortably in her stomach. But this time she was truly thinking of her mother.


The bagged groceries in one hand and the other hand toying with her iPod (which read 9:12), deciding which artist to play next (a tough decision between Lauryn Hill and Nas), Maria was traipsing back to her house.

The roads were quiet and desolate. Not many cars seemed to be out on this Saturday evening, which was usual for Madison Stone. Browning clouds overhead and a constant wind blowing through her brown-black hair, Maria sensed some kind of thunderstorm coming.

She crossed a street while a car was stopped by a red light. Glancing to her left, she realized it was a police car. Her pace quickened.

Maria had a slight fear of police cars, especially their bright flashing lights. She didn't know who or what instilled it in her, maybe something from her past, but it was there, though she wasn't completely aware of it.

As it was beginning to rain, she pulled her hood over her head. She was glancing down at her iPod, ready to pick another song, when—

A shove—her earphones flung out of her ears—"What the hell?" and "Watch out!" Maria struggled to keep her groceries steady in her arms.

She noted an oversized navy-blue sweatshirt which hooded familiar blonde hair and those pale blue eyes; that wistful, dream-state face. Was it . . .?

"Janice? Oh, hey there, bitch!"

"Maria," Janice replied in a voice that was the polar opposite to what had been her tone mere moments ago.

Janice Pierce had been Maria's lab partner in junior year chemistry (not summer school, which was a whole other struggle). She was a bit of a weird, different girl who everyone seemed to have a quarrel with. In fact, she seemed to be wearing clothes for men—particularly shady, scary thugs—at the very moment.

Dakota and Kay's group hated these quirks about her. But Maria didn't mind Janice. In fact, they were almost… friends. In a weird, not-really-but-sort-of way.

Janice was clever and very intelligent—she was the reason Maria's chem grade from last year nested so high up—but at the same time, very odd. Sometimes Janice had come to school as a wispy candle, and other times as an infernal dragon.

As for why Maria was in summer school for chemistry, she hadn't failed it; she was just getting ahead. In other words, she needed that extra slot in senior year for theatre class. Maria didn't have time for silly things like chem.

"What's old, Maria?" Janice asked in that soft, vulnerable voice, serenely blowing a strand of that blond hair away from her eyes.

"Oh, nothing. I just got some shit. You know, eggs, milk"—she held up the bag—"'cause we were out."

Dead silence. A crow cawed somewhere. And again.

"Well, not anymore!" An awkward smile, as she awkwardly held up the bag again. Halfheartedly laughed amidst the cricket chirps.

Was it rude that she wanted this exchange to hurry up? She didn't want to get caught up in a heavy downpour.

"What about you? Janice?"

Janice was glancing at the full moon meaningfully. "Me?" she asked, without turning her head. "How do you mean?"

"Well, you kind of disappeared during exam weeks, back in June. Haven't seen you since. You okay? I thought you were sick or something. You've been completely out of touch."

No response. Just faint raindrops. The smell of wet grass.

"Anyway," Maria continued, talking to a brick as usual, "I went back on the exam review day. Mrs. Eastman said that your parents called you in sick, but she thinks you avoided school for some reason . . . She told me—or, actually, anyone who would maybe see you—to tell you that your grade is still well above an eighty. Well, I'm sure you know that now, what with report cards and shit."

Maria tucked her hands into her sweatshirt pockets, causing the milk cartons' edges to swing and poke into her legs. Janice was still gazing at the full moon.

Sensing that Janice wasn't going to reply yet, Maria spoke on, a bit snappily. "She said everyone screwed up on that exam, you know?"

Normally, people would be put off by Janice's odd . . . state of being. She was always physically near, but very mentally distant. But Maria had grown accustomed to the difference and the slight awkwardness. Besides, Janice was an excellent listener, unlike Maria's mother.

"I'm not sick, though," she finally breathed. Yeah, thanks Sherlock. "Give her my blessings for worrying about me. But, really, I'm okay. I just . . . I have to go now."

"Oh-kay." Maria tried not to sound displaced and shuffled aside.

Janice turned, but before she walked away, she abruptly swiveled back around. She whipped out a small notepad from one of her pockets, scribbled down something quickly, ripped and scrunched the paper, and then shoved it into Maria's sweatshirt pocket.

Maria, glancing down, was about to examine the note using the hand that was still inside her pocket, but Janice grabbed her arm—hard.

"Give that to my brother. I don't think I've mentioned him much, though I should've—he's really sweet, really—but . . ." She paused, closed her eyes and bit down on her bottom lip. Maria saw this often—Janice had always made it seem like she were holding back a sneeze or a cough or verbal vomit or something. "Sorry. It's getting difficult."

"What is—?"

"Just try and find him—Drake. I think you'd like him. He's as obvious as I am."

Maria laughed. This girl wasn't serious, right? She grinned out of uncertainty and confused amusement. "Janice, what—?"

"I've gotta go," Janice interrupted, her words panicky and rapid. She took a step back. "Give that to my brother—make sure—and you can use my chem binder—you're taking chem in summer school, right?—ask him for it; I should have a bit of the grade twelve curriculum. Good luck in the exams."

"Janice." Maria's polite smirk was beginning to falter. The rain was beginning to pick up. Great. "You're creeping me out, what's—?"

"I've gotta go." Janice's grip tightened around Maria's wrist, then spontaneously released. "Just remember the note, alright?"

"Yeah, but—"

And Janice broke into a dead run. She didn't look back. Not a ghost of a thanks or anything.

"I'll see you in school—two weeks!" Maria fecklessly hollered into the distance.

Janice didn't confirm her proposal. She instead continued to run until the dull orange lamps no longer evidenced her existence, until the long shadows they threw weren't seen by anyone else in Madison Stone. Maria was alone standing in the rain.