01. Mountain View, California.
Roughly 1 year before the Collapse.
Under the orange glow of a sodium street light rested a lone car with a small woman pressed up against the driver’s side door. Her head was tipped down and shadow obscured most of her face from view. Her hair was a long, untrimmed, black mass, glossy enough to consume the lamp light and reflect it around the crown of her skull like a fiery halo.
“Maggi,” a second woman approached. She was larger in the hips and the shoulders, and just simply taller. Thick heels on her burgundy boots beat rhythmically into parched concrete, echoing across the parking lot, “I came as quick as I could.”
Maggi, cast in coral and umbra, looked up. She pressed a hand up to her face, a smoldering cigarette between her fingers, and inhaled. Her eyes caught enough light to separate from the shadows of her face before enveloping Aubriana in a watchful, predatory gaze.
“Maggi?” Aubriana stepped closer and dropped a red leather purse off her shoulder. The soft blow to the ground accompanied by the bounce of steel keys and silver coins. “Are you okay?”
The smaller woman, Maggi, wasn’t particularly attractive with the eyes of a hawk and lips that curled into a mean sneer when she speaks. She smelt of tobacco and discount store perfume, a stark mix of rubbing alcohol and mountain breeze air freshener.
“No, I’m not fucking okay.” Aubriana was used to Maggi’s sour tone, ill mood, and incessant swearing. She clipped her vowels down when she spoke, and there was a marked tone in the last word of every sentence. “I’m fucking knocked up.”
Maggi’s anger was consumed by Aubriana. It caught fire in her chest and spread with the blood that pumped out of her heart. Her cheeks flushed in rage, but she took care to hide this in her tone when she replied, “Whose baby is it?”
Maggi tossed her cigarette to the tarmac in disgust, before snapping her head around to look directly up at Aubriana. A slap in the face may have elicited a better reaction, “Who the fuck do you think, Aubree? I never fucked around on him. Never.”
Aubriana’s hair was auburn at the roots and dyed a vibrant crimson that was draped across her back and shoulders. Aubriana, in contrast to Maggi’s dollar store scents, smelt of wormwood, orchid, ginger and sandalwood. It was a dark, musky smell that coaxed the senses forward and recalled ancient brothels. She reached out for Maggi, hand brushing against her bare arm. It was smooth and warm against the cool night. Aubriana let that glow fill her palm and pressed her fingertips inward.
“Perra.” Bitch, Maggi says, the edges of her eyes welled up and the dams of her lashes threatened to give way, “you’re my best fucking friend, why would I hide shit from you?”
Maggi’s loyalty was admirable and some part of Aubriana hoped to learn that this wasn’t the case, hoped that perhaps Maggi had been as selfish in her desires as Aubriana. Best fucking friend, Aubriana repeated, inside her own mind. “I didn’t know, I had to ask.”
They’d been close to inseparable for nearly two years; visiting Utah, Idaho, even Nevada on various road trips and excursions. Aubriana had never taken easily to people, she’d never connected to them in deep or acute ways. It wasn’t that she didn’t like people, she liked them just fine; it was more that people kept their distance near her, the way you kept from your distance from a funeral procession. You didn’t hate it, and you absolutely respected it, but you had no desire to join it.
“I can’t imagine being a mother,” Maggi shook her head fast, the salty lamentation flitting about her face and dark hair, “I’m barely responsible for myself, let alone a child.”