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Chopsticks were never Billie’s strong point. She managed, of course, through portions of rice and roasted meat. Though she was constantly reminded it wasn’t the correct way to wield the two pieces of wood.

It does the job, she thought dryly as she raised the bowl of cold sesame noodles to her mouth.

“How does it taste?” Mae asked from across the dining table, twirling a metal spoon in her hand.

Billie put down the bowl with a cynical smile, wiping her lips with the back of her hand. “Just like I remember.”

Mae’s smile matched hers. “That line never gets old, huh?”

Billie didn’t bother with a response as lifted another hefty portion of noodles into her mouth. An explosion of garlic, soy sauce and ginger greeted her, but something was missing, per usual. A strange airiness, something Billie feared she’ll never get used to. It almost felt they weren’t there at all.

“When do you think it’ll be time?” Mae asked, resting her heart-shaped face in her hands, the spoon awkwardly sticking out of her fingers. Her pinkies were massaging her temples, where her pale arched eyebrows met the gray streaks of her hair. Billie only offered a one-shoulder shrug. “Whenever. Don’t you have something to do later today?”

“Family dinner,” she responded, grinning almost madly at her friend across the table. She shifted her palms so it stretched the corners of her pouty lips into a grimace, crinkling the bandaid lain over the thin bridge of her nose. “I’ll be free in a couple hours after that.”

Billie scowled. “Call me after.”

Mae slid her left hand up, shifting her face and lifting her upper eyelid in a rather creepy manner. “Aw, are you scared for me?”

Billie snorted. “As if.”

Mae curled her fingers inward, dragging them down her face and leaving shallow scratch marks all over her cheeks. A flush quickly met up to where her fingers dug into the skin, mixing with the pale scar on her left cheek. Her cab yellow chemise, all buttoned wrong, rustled as she opened her arms, almost as she was expecting Billie to lean across the table and give her a hug. “It won’t be the first! It won’t be the last!”

Billie was long used to her oddities. “First and last, what?” She asked, laying the chopsticks across the wide bowl, watching them roll one or twice, all thanks to the uneven table.

“Time I’ll see my family,” Mae replied cheerily, standing up, dusting off imaginary particles from her ripped jean shorts and the tights worn underneath. Her green blazer, worn over the yellow formal shirt, nearly covered her short piece of light-washed denim. “It could change.”

Billie made a non-committal sound. Rice vinegar stained her tongue as she stood up, sliding the bowl across the kitchen counter. The rim hit the metal lining of the sink with a pleasant thunk, prompting Mae to toss her spoon into the piling plates soaked in dish soap.

She wiped her hands on her tights. Today, they were blue with obnoxiously bright orange smiley-faces. And she had a full arsenal of awful patterned tights.

Billie looked over at her mother making tea in the kitchen, shuffling cans of tea leaves and teapots in the corner. Mae twirled on the wooden floor, her dirty socks squealing against the cracked wooden flooring.

She tuned out Mae’s senseless babbling and watched her mother continue her work, completely unbothered by her friend’s nonstop talking. She looked away, moving to the window instead of focusing on the sinking feeling in her chest.

There were the familiar arches that supported the small patio in front of her house, followed by the front door and worn mosquito netting covering it. A couple of dry Californian bushes lined the brick path and terracotta tiles. But beyond that, there was nothing.

The dead grass slowly fell into nothing. Just past that brick road, darkness swallowed the whole world. No sun, the rest of the sub-urban neighborhood nowhere to be found. The eerie quiet and the pitch-black haze reminded Billie of her dead phone screen, whenever it ran out of battery in the early hours of the morning. Nothing to be heard, nothing to be seen.

Though inside her home, it seemed quite normal. The hot water machine hummed to life. The heater kicked in with a pleasant buzz. The fan of the bathroom was left on, as usual.

It would be normal. A small family in the California suburbs.

If it weren’t for the fact that they were in a different world. If it weren’t for that fact that Billie and Mae were sleeping. If it weren’t for the fact that Billie’s mother was dead.

“My dad would freak out when he sees what I’ll be wearing,” Mae was saying excitedly.

Billie looked down at her bouncing form. “Knock ‘em dead,” she encouraged with a small smile.

Mae looked at her reflection on the glass. “That line never gets old?” she offered, tilting her head to the side as she propped her indexes on her cheeks.

Billie’s little smirk bloomed into a smile. “Nothing ever gets old here.”

Author Notes: mae is one of my favorite characters i've written so far. larger project i'm working on, hope you enjoy.

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30 Aug, 2021
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