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  1. Afterward... With Kestrel, the little package of knishes she'd bought at the deli, and her bike in tow, it would have been a very long, very frustrating walk back to Maya's apartment from Tribeca if her strange new acquaintance hadn't helped her haul it into the subway. Despite the relative paucity of passengers, those few who shared the car with them on the awkward ride to her neighborhood kept glaring at her as if personally offended by the (unused) space it was taking up- but after the general misery of the day, she was satisfied just letting someone else do the driving for a while, even if it meant getting side eye from every third person who looked in her direction. They rode in relative silence to 77th Street Station, and from there it was a short walk back to 542 E 79th, and Maya's apartment. "Living room," she announced, tossing keys, knishes, and cashmere scarf onto the coffee table with equal (dis)regard, gesturing for her guest to enter as she closed and bolted the front door. "Kitchen. Bathroom... Hot water is usually good." "Okay," Kestrel started, "so where-" "Couch," came the weary reply as Maya peered speculatively into the fridge. "You'll probably have to fight Sully for it, though. He gets territorial." The massive smoky black and grey shape of the Maine Coon who presided over the Flynn residence emerged from the shadows of the bookcase, as if summoned, regarding first the newcomer, and then his human caretaker, with the grouchy, disdainful mien of someone very important called up on an absurdly trivial matter. "There's... some leftover French onion soup in here if you get hungry. I'm gonna take a shower, and a nap, and hope when I wake up this was all just a seriously messed-up dream." It wasn't, of course, and when Maya woke a few hours later, Kestrel had gone home for an overnight bag, stopped for a box of not-too-expensive-but-not-cheap rosé, and made herself at home in the living room. She and Suleiman had, apparently, agreed to a tentative truce so long as the 'Opposite Ends of the Couch' treaty was observed. The remainder of the evening passed in relatively uneventful fashion, with no lingerie and pillow fights, no getting white-girl wasted, no hair-pulling or tearful confessions. It was, instead, spent like most nights in America: sullenly scrolling through the options on Hulu and Netflix, wondering where their lives went wrong.
  2. "You know what the problem is?" Maya challenged the grim-faced man seated across from her. "How to plan for it? Because according to what you told me, you're only a couple of hours ahead of me in the info department, and way behind when it comes to my life, and my problems. So while I appreciate the offer to walk away, Mr. Grimson, don't think for a fucking second that I trust a complete stranger to handle anything like a threat to my life without my involvement and input, and so help me, I swear that if either of you get me killed, I will be the most obnoxious ghost since the invention of death to haunt anyone, anywhere." The dull clink of her empty mug being placed on the table added a note of gravitas to the informal oath, and for all the internal screaming going on, the assistant librarian felt reasonably confident her expression didn't immediately betoken murder or hysteria. Or both. "So here's how this is going to work." Sighing, she draped the scarf she'd taken from her sister across her lap, burying her fingers into the ephemeral softness as she frowned at Kestrel. None of this was a good idea, but if they were right... "You're going to crash on my couch for the next couple days." After a moment's pause, she added, "Bring rosé. In the meantime, I'll see what I can find at the library. I know the place better than either of you, and I have access to some of the restricted collections, as well as the other branches in the city. You," she continued, turning back to Mel. "Honestly, I don't know. Just don't hang out at my place of employment, please. Either of you."
  3. A sensation of phantasmal horror, more unnerving than any of the other strangeness in her life for the fact that it was such an incredibly mundane and boring fear- just part of living in a city like New York- trailed icy fingers up the length of her spine as she listened to Mel describe the events of the last several days, from his perspective. "That was a week ago," Maya replied quietly, her eyes dark and unreadable in the hipster-dim lighting as she turned the porcelain mug in her hands. "You've been stalking me... for a week. Not contacting me, not warning me, not approaching me or handling things in any of the ways a normal person would. And now you want me to trust you." Pursing her lips, the willowy woman nodded and took a slow sip of the fragrant, spiced drink, swallowing meditatively. It was too expensive by half, but it was a good dirty chai, she admitted grudgingly, with just the right balance of bitter and sweet to cover up the sharp tang of nervousness on the back of her tongue. "I'm sorry to hear about your wife's passing, Mr. Grimson," she continued, addressing him in the same measured, methodical tone. "That must have been very difficult for you." There was a long, uncomfortable pause, the sounds of the coffee shop more distant than ever. "As far as how I plan to take your explanation?" Again, she nodded, slowly, aware that despite having had strange experiences of her own, this man was obviously not well. Her gaze drifted back to the woman who'd introduced herself as Kestrel. "With more than a few grains of salt. To be honest, I didn't have a great opinion of Mr. Grimson, here, or your boss, before tonight, and this-" She gestured vaguely at the pair seated across the table. "This hasn't helped. So you've got me for this one drink. Before I finish it, I want to know what, exactly, you're planning to do about this curse you claim I'm under." She paused again, the flicker of a memory surfacing. "And if your boss is after someone called 'Mason,' he might be in a lot of trouble."
  4. "I'm sorry, did you say 'mutual acquaintances'?" If Maya's eyebrows rose any higher, they were in danger of vanishing into the thick black curls swept over her forehead. "Listen, mister, 'skeptical' doesn't begin to cover it right now. You introduced her." A slim finger jabbed in Kestrel's direction. "I still don't know who the hell you are, except for the stiff-necked asshole at the party I was invited to. Yes. Invited," she repeated, dark eyes glaring daggers at the stoic former Ranger. "I don't care who you work for. I don't care what they're paying you. I don't even care who you think these 'mutual acquaintances' are that'd tell you to stalk me," the tall woman all but hissed, her earlier anger at the seeming unfairness of the entirety of life bubbling back up to the surface. "I've just had the worst week of my life after running into you and your, your client, or whatever, and those crazy people who were at that godforsaken party." She stood there for a moment, seething quietly as memories of the dreams she'd had- the woman, the monster, and the fall, and then D'Sombra- and the strangeness at the library permeated her thoughts, coloring the simple, straightforward experience of anger with more ominous shades. "He said your name is Kestrel. You said I'm cursed," she managed finally, one hand gripping the handlebar of her bicycle as she turned to the woman who hadn't yet sparked her ire directly. "Fine. Assuming I'm willing to hear you out, I hope this isn't the part where you tell me to follow you somewhere, because..." She laughed quietly, shaking her head at the audacity of the pair. "Hell no. You already know where I work if you followed me all the way out here, so you can just meet me there. Tomorrow. After 5," she added, not counting on Lorraine staying one minute past her appointed time.
  5. Maya stared at the grim-looking man and his leather-jacketed companion, her sister's white scarf looped haphazardly around her neck as she tried to remember the guy's name- because, hoo, buddy, it was hard to forget a face like that, one that looked like it'd crack if he ever smiled. The only thing that came to mind, though, was the fact that he'd more or less tried to throw her out of the party she'd been invited to, and Mourne's name wasn't exactly one she had positive associations with, either. Sure, there was definitely some weirdness going on, but none of these people seemed remotely trustworthy. "Cursed," she stated flatly, looking from one probable nutjob to another. "Right. So, just clarify some things for me, then. First, why is it that the two of you, people I don't know working for someone I've had a single conversation with, are here?" The tall, slim woman glanced up at the townhouses lining the street, and then pointedly back at the unlikely pair. "In Tribeca. Where I don't live, and don't work, and definitely do not willingly spend my idle hours. When I just happened to have to make a trip over to handle some..." Exhaling sharply, Maya checked herself. "Some family business. Because that sounds like stalking to me. Second." After standing her bike up and giving it a cursory once-over for damage, she continued. "Why, exactly, should I believe you?"
  6. "Maya, you can't take them back!" "Fucking watch me. And get your hands off me, Jesus!" "No! I need them!" The strident sound of angry feminine voices continued to ring throughout the fashionable Tribeca brownstone, echoing off the gleaming faux-Carrara tile and the pristine vaulted ceilings, disrupting the previously inviolate serenity of the well-appointed urban castle. "And, a-anyway, they don't give refunds!" Tisha's tone was, by turns, pleading and defiant as she circled around the enormous granite-topped kitchen island to confront her sister, the box of crepes in Maya's hand dangling by a slim blue ribbon and swaying threateningly as she stormed away. This was her house, after all, her domain, and family or not- "You need them?" the taller woman hissed through clenched teeth as she wheeled around and reached out suddenly, a length of her sister's beautiful milk-white scarf bunching inelegantly in her fist. It was so soft, so plush and insubstantial, she might as well have been strangling a cloud- which was marginally better than strangling the petite, well-coiffured diva in front of her. Marginally. "What you need, Leticia Meyer-Flynn, is your narrow ass whipped. I, on the other hand, need my hundred and three fucking dollars and forty-three cents!" It was important, the still-rational part of her brain reminded her, to be specific. Details mattered, after all: the exact amount of change due; the precise spelling of an author's name; the positions of the decimals on your income tax forms; the difference between a latte and a flat white; the time-stamp of a text from your mother; the realization that simple assault charges usually only get you a misdemeanor. The rest of her brain, the part that was currently uninterested in such trivialities, suggested she just forget the petty details and go straight for the felony. Why do something halfway, right? "I told you I don't have it! Maya, I swear, we don't-" A sharp tug at the ends of the scarf cut off her denial, but Leticia stood firm, the hard onyx of her eyes glittering with fury at being accosted in her own home. "Don't you dare-!" "You don't what? Hm? Don't have the money ready to pay me back for doing you a favor? For going out of my way to help you? You expect me to believe you can't afford to pay for the fucking pancakes you sent me to-" "They're crepes!" The indignant, immaculate beauty retorted almost instinctively, her whole body quivering with nerves and suppressed anger. "I don't give a rat's ass what they are to you, Tisha!" Maya was furious now, near tears at the bitter injustice. Leticia had everything, had always had everything, and she still wanted more, couldn't conceive of a world in which she didn't always get everything. "They're my utilities! They're my groceries! They're my fucking phone bill! If you, way up here on top of Mount Gold-Digger, don't have the money to pay for your own overpriced pancakes then how the fuck do you think I'm gonna just have it lying around, huh?!" "I just- I didn't-" Leticia stammered, inadvertently taking a step back; they'd argued before, but never like this. "We don't keep cash, Maya, you know that! I thought you could borrow it, and I could just pay you back later!" "That was a rhetorical question! I swear to-" With an audible growl of frustration, Maya yanked the airy, almost insubstantial wrap from where it lay draped elegantly over her sister's shoulders; bereft of queenly elegance, it drooped limply from between her fingers as she studied it pointedly, eyes narrowing at the impossibly luxe texture of the lightweight fabric. "How much did you pay for this?" she demanded. "What?" Tisha blinked, obviously caught off-guard by the sudden change of subject. "What does that have to do with anything?" "This scarf," her sister repeated tersely, hands trembling as they tightened amid the folds of delicate cloth. "How. Much." Again Leticia blinked, and then, as if it might explain the value of the scarf, added, "It's cashmere." Sororicide is a crime, Maya, a tiny voice reminded her. Only if you get caught. "I didn't ask what it was made of. How much did you pay for it, Tisha?" "...Three hundred." There was a long moment of uncomfortable silence following the querulous admission "Three hundred. For a scarf." The word wasn't so much uttered as fired contemptuously, a venomous missile of targeted derision for her sister's covetousness. "A hundred for pancakes. Un-fucking-believable.” She almost laughed then, struck by the complete and total absurdity of the situation. “You know what? Fine. Keep 'em." Casually, Maya tossed the white box onto the gleaming countertop where it slid perilously close to the edge. Leticia squeaked softly in relief. "You have a good time at your dinner party with your friends and your fancy-ass breakfast for dessert. I've got better things to do." "Okay," the petite, dark-eyed woman agreed, exhaling and composing herself once more now that the drama had apparently passed. Maybe now, she could get on with her preparations for dinner. "Then give me back my pashmina, it goes with the pantsuit I'm wearing tonight." "You can have it back when you pay me what's owed." Maya paused, head tilted as Tisha opened her mouth to protest. "Oh, I'm sorry," she crooned. "Did you suddenly remember where you had some cash?" Her eyes widened mockingly, cruelly, as she absorbed the stricken expression on her sister's flawless features. "Stuffed inside a naughty first-edition of Lolita in the office, maybe? Behind that ugly little Rothko in the living room?" Her sister's miserable silence was answer enough, and she clucked her tongue softly. "Uh-huh. Thought not. Call me when you have my money, Leticia, or I swear, I will never help you again as long as we live." "'I could borrow it', she said. What the actual shit is that?" Maya demanded of the evening air as she stalked out of the upscale townhouse, cashmere cloud firmly in hand.
  7. "One roast beef on garlic bread, add lettuce and tomato, fries on the side for here, please, with a water, and a dozen mini knishes to go. Thanks." Ahhh, Pastrami Queen. Twenty bucks for a sandwich wasn't ordinarily within Maya's budget but considering the week she'd had, it was either going to get spent on lunch or boxed wine- and since they didn't make straws big enough for the latter, she'd just go with the roast beef instead. As she waited on her food, the off-duty librarian leaned against the wall, watching people pass on the sidewalk outside and surreptitiously glancing at the few other diners crammed into the tiny deli. Normally there'd be conversation, right? Even just commentary on the tongue or the egg salad or the Matzoh ball soup, all of which were pretty solid here. New Yorkers were notoriously chatty about food- asking someone about their favorite burger or the best place to get soup dumplings was the easiest way to strike up a conversation with a good-looking stranger. But... Nothing. They just sat in solemn silence, mechanically chewing what was arguably some of the best pastrami on the East Side, occasionally poking at their phone screens. In its way, the weirdly subdued atmosphere was even creepier than the haunted books at the library or the freaky/sexy dream she'd had of SoHo Salome. "Order up!" The clerk at the counter glared pointedly at her, then disappeared back into the kitchen. Oh, well. Good food didn't always mean good service, and at the rate things were going, she should probably just be grateful she'd been served at all. She grabbed the one empty table against the back wall and eagerly started to dig in to the monstrous sandwich- then paused, cautiously checking under the bread for any unpleasant surprises, because it would be just her luck to find half a spider or something after the first bite. Reasonably satisfied there was nothing untoward lurking in the lettuce, Maya set about the serious business of devouring what was likely to be ninety-percent of the sum total of her caloric intake for the day. Park Avenue was going to be a nightmare, she decided, taking a long pull from her water bottle. She could take 77th over to Madison, and then up to 78th, but it was... What time was it? Swallowing a mouthful of gloriously salty fries, she checked her phone and instantly pulled the face her mother had always warned her would stick if she wasn't careful. Great. So, another 20 minutes or so to Lady M's for the cake, then down to Tribeca to her sister's place, which was almost another hour. Perfect. Absolutely perfect. It was not, of course, absolutely perfect, as Maya's inborn sense of irony had already suggested. "I'm sorry, it's how much? Did you just say this cake is a hundred dollars?" Half an hour after leaving the deli, the tall, dark-eyed woman stared at a tiny blonde behind the polished counter of the upscale pâtisserie. Between them sat a neat white cake box tied with a crisp blue ribbon. It wasn't even particularly large, from the looks of the packaging. Just your normal, average, could've-bought-it-from-Trader-Joe's-sized cake. "$103.43 after tax. Yes," the little porcelain princess chirped with saccharine precision. "And how will you be paying for that today?" "For a cake," Maya repeated. "No, for our new, limited edition 'Slice of the Best' mille crepes. Now will that be cash, or charge?" "Let me get this straight. My little sister ordered a hundred dollar stack of pancakes?" she asked, unable to keep the rising note of incredulity out of her voice. She had given up her day off for crepes. Freaking pancakes. She was rearranging her life so that her sister could feed her dinner guests fancy breakfast for dessert. The thin, taut smile of the cashier suggested that she, too, would rather not be having this conversation right now, but propriety dictated that both of them maintain some thin veneer of civility. "...I swear to god, Tisha, you better have cash. in. hand. when I get there," the long-suffering older sister muttered under her breath as she pulled out her debit card.
  8. The universe hated her. That was the only reasonable explanation. Maya shook her head as she waited at the crosswalk of E 77th and 1st Ave, staring at the light on the opposite side and trying to ignore the sullen faces of the people crowded around her. Next time Colleen, or, hell, any of the kids’ parents from the library tried to do something nice for her, she was just going to politely decline. Especially if it was an invitation to a party, and especially if it seemed like a good chance to get out and enjoy herself for a little bit. Because, apparently, whatever cosmic jerk had written out the plan for her life had decided that having a good time wasn’t allowed. The day after the creepy dream she’d had about the woman from the gala being in her apartment, she’d lost her debit card. Totally screwed. The absolute best part, though, was that she didn’t find out until she’d gone to lunch that afternoon, and wouldn’t you just know it? Her ex Nate happened to also be getting lunch there. What a coincidence! Sure, he offered to pay for the sandwich she’d ordered (and she let him, obviously, because it was nice to eat once in a while), but then she had to listen to Fuckboy Supreme go on for nearly an hour with his pseudo-intellectual nonsense about Kant’s ideas on race and disability being totally misrepresented as ‘problematic’ when really he was just a man of his time and unfairly held to account for modern sensibilities… And was she free on Friday? ‘Cause, y’know. Kind of a dry spell. Yeah. She knew. In Nate’s case, she just also didn’t care. The day after that? Her bike chain had broken in the middle of morning rush, for no discernible reason whatsoever, and she’d ripped the hem of her slacks on the pedal. That was a real delight, a happy little two-for-one bonus. Even after she’d gotten to work, things didn’t get much better; one of the regular kids had been sick upstairs, and came down crying her eyes out because she was so upset. It wasn’t Grace’s fault, obviously, but it was just… one of those things. It took forever to clean up, especially because Lorraine couldn’t seem to keep her narrow ass parked at the circulation desk, so Maya had been forced to keep running downstairs to help the patrons, and it was- she shuddered at the memory- weirdly sludgey. It had been weeks since she’d been able to hang out with Mason, drink a bottle of something local, and work on storyboards for “Greetings From Black Lake,” so obviously Tisha would call on her one day off to have her pick up the cake for some stupid dinner thing she and Mr. Perfect were hosting. What kind of spoiled brat bullshit was that? They both had cars, and it’s not like Leticia actually worked, so there was no reason she couldn’t- “You gonna fuckin’ move, or what?” a surly, lumpy woman in an ugly green coat snarled at her, jostling her out of the way. Maya sucked in a sharp breath as a hundred different flavors of vitriol mingled on her tongue- but instead of loosing it, she bit it and lowered her head, pushing her bike through the crowd with the silent, seething fury of a woman who was just. fucking. done.
  9. The paint is flaking. That was Maya's first coherent thought as her eyes focused on the ceiling overhead. The pressed tin (Or copper? Maybe it was copper. They used that, too, didn't they?) squares, originally painted a pristine white to make the apartment look brighter and newer than it really was, were starting to look a bit patchy in the sunlight spilling through her windows. Dazedly, she made a mental note to call maintenance as she sat up and immediately grimaced, regretting the decision to attempt anything resembling verticality. It had been a while since she'd dreamed that vividly, and the last time it happened her brain had conjured up a troll, and a... whatever a 'pooka' was. It had also been a while since she'd had quite so much to drink, and with a half-groan, half-whine of regret, the young assistant librarian pushed herself off the couch and shuffled desultorily to the bathroom for a shower. Shower first. Tea... Toast, maybe? She wrinkled her nose at the idea of food, but part of feeling more like a functional human being was eating, apparently, and she did still have some of that rhubarb butter with cardamom she'd picked up at the greenmarket. Speaking of breakfast... "Sully," she called a few minutes later as she wrapped a towel around herself and padded barefoot down the hall, wincing as the sound of her own voice reverberated painfully in her ears. "You hungry?" Thud. "Guess so." The enormous Maine Coon stalked into the open kitchen, yellow eyes luminous amid the smoky grey of his fur, and stared up at his bipedal servant expectantly. "What would his highness like this morning, hm? Tuna, chicken, or turkey?" The long-limbed bibliophile squinted into the cupboard, withdrawing a brightly labeled tin and turning it around in her hand. "Or... Nevermind. Looks like salmon today. You're in luck, your magnificence." The large, black-maned cat's answer- a quiet, contented trill- was utterly at odds with the cat's seemingly grim demeanor, and he wound affectionately around Maya's ankles as she prepared a plate of the flaky pink fish for the lord of the manor. "There you go. I've got some calls to make, so, you know. Yell if you need me." Not that she needed to worry on that account- he always did. She could hear the radio from upstairs- Deb again, from the sound of it, as unlikely as that seemed. She paused, considering again the strange, dark tone of her dream and setting the saucer at Suleiman-level. "And if anyone shows up at the door uninvited, could you do me a favor? Tell them I'm not home."
  10. That stung. Meek. Scared. Content. Maya bristled internally: she wasn't those things, wasn't content, wasn't satisfied with the course her life had taken. ...But, a tiny voice reminded her, she had accepted it, hadn't she? And wasn't that basically the same thing as not being bold enough, or brave enough, or even resolute enough to do anything about it? And here was a Machiavellian goddess in the flesh, offering to make her more, somehow, than she was. Even in the midst of all the fearful strangeness, that part rang true. It had weight, meaning, beyond what sounded like an extremely eloquent sales pitch, or the gilded and engraved invitation to a Faustian bargain... Which, Maya reflected for a moment, it probably was. And yet, knowing that- that something was very wrong, that she couldn't possibly trust what she was seeing or hearing, that these kinds of offers in books always ended badly for the protagonist who succumbed to temptation- made her no less inclined to listen. A more resolute hero would politely refuse the beautiful, black-taloned harpy now and bear the burden of the potential consequences. A braver one, certain of his own ability, may laugh and tell her where to go, and where to find him if she had a problem with it. A bolder one might use his own irresistible presence try to turn the tables, seducing the seductress for his own amusement and edification. Maya... wasn't a hero. Which begged the question: What am I, then, that she wants to change me? "I believe you," she replied softly, studying the empty space where D'Sombra's reflection should be next to hers. "You're a woman with the wealth and the will to do almost anything- I realized it the moment I met you at the party. And now you've come all this way to meet me, to use your own time in order to speak with me. So, why?" the young bibliophile asked quietly, turning back to the raven-haired, dark-eyed temptress before her. "Why would you offer to do this for me?"
  11. What? A switch in her brain flipped from annoyance to complete confusion; the calm voice of Maya's rational self reminded her that she was smart, she was educated, and this? This was not normal. Sure, she acknowledged, it wasn't "Shrek and the talking rabbit in the library" not normal, but she knew she'd locked the door when she came in. How on Earth did D'Sombra find out where she lived, much less get into the place, and so soon after the party? Something wasn't right- something more than the fact that the gorgeous, predatory woman had very clearly had no reflection. That... It could have been an optical illusion, something to do with angles and the way light could be distorted. Not her field, maybe she could find a book on the subject. ...But that was for later. At the moment, the best-dressed velociraptor she'd ever seen in her life was re-enacting the kitchen scene from Jurassic Park right there in Christian Louboutin heels in her apartment. She couldn't remember getting into her pajamas, but she did suddenly feel woefully under-dressed. In her own home. How did that even make sense? ...As if any of this does, she sighed inwardly. "Sorry, Ms. D'Sombra, you seem to have caught me at a bad time," she began, bare feet quiet on the cool floor. "I hadn't really planned on having guests once I got home." Despite that, though, and despite knowing she should politely but firmly see her visitor to the door, Maya was curious. How? Why? There had to be a reason D'Sombra was here, instead of wining and dining some foreign dignitary, counting her warehouses of money, or bathing in the blood of a lovely young virgin to preserve her beauty. Sure, the scene at the gallery had been a little unusual, but surely not so unusual to a glamorous socialite that she'd track a person down and just waltz into their home to chat. Glancing around the small studio apartment that seemed somehow alien and not a little ominous at the present- otherwise a fairly typical furnished offering for the area, and within a reasonable distance of work- Maya considered the question she'd been asked, and the comment that preceded it. "To answer your question, though, since you've come all this way... Sure, almost everyone wants more. That's why we work, try to build relationships with people and get an education. We'd just sit around and do nothing, otherwise." She paused for a moment, and then added, "Although, if you're asking about the apartment, really the only thing I'd change is my upstairs neighbor." And maybe the security, for crying out loud.
  12. Startled, Maya spun on her heel, instinctively swinging at- Nothing. There was no one there, just the empty rectangle of her doorway and the dim hall beyond, keys still glinting dully in the lock. Flustered and unreasonably embarrassed, she hoped Sully hadn't just seen that- she could imagine his big, lantern-yellow eyes peering at her from his usual spot on the bookshelf, narrowed in what she could only assume was laughter. The keys jingled again as she retrieved them, then closed and bolted the door with a smooth, satisfying click of the well-worn brass latch. Sighing, she rubbed her face with her free hand, dropping the keys into a small dish on the counter nearby. Something about the D'Sombra woman, or something she said, must have gotten stuck in her brain, or else Maya wouldn't be hearing her voice right now. What was it? She mulled it over as she moved through the apartment, the pleasant fog of inebriation lifting by millimeters. So much had happened during the evening, with the drinks and meeting up with Coleen and her husband, and before that the crazy woman and Mr. Horatio Mourne, and the painting... Maya looked up suddenly, staring at her reflection in the mirror above the bathroom sink. Small, frothy rivulets of lather dripped down her cheeks, and warm water gushed unheeded into the basin where she was washing her face. The painting. She'd seen something in it, hadn't she? A story... and D'Sombra had laughed. Taken her side. But... they didn't even know each other. The only people at the party she'd ever met before were Coleen, and the woman in the white dress, from the coffee shop- Oh. "Oh, fuck," Maya whispered to her reflection, as awareness suddenly dawned. The angry woman trying to talk to Mourne, the barista, was the one she'd seen in her dream. The one who fell out a window with that dark thing, that awful shape after her, and died. The one Mourne had died trying to protect. She hadn't known him at the time, but then she'd met him, and... Now his face was overlaid over the vague one she'd seen at the library, and the other woman's features snapped into place in her memory. Why hadn't she remembered it at the party?! With a quick splash of water on her cheeks to rinse off the rest of the soap, Maya grabbed the hand towel from the ring on the wall and swiped it briskly over her face. She felt sober now, or mostly so, and cold. Mason. Mourne had said the other woman's last name. Miss Mason. "Fuck." The word was an angry exhalation- angry that she was going to have to deal with the crazy woman again, angry that she hadn't remembered until now, and angry that all of this kept resurfacing with uncomfortable regularity. She was really looking forward to the warm, welcoming embrace of sleep as she turned away from the mirror to go to bed.
  13. Maya exhaled slowly, nostrils flaring slightly as she bit back a retort to Casey's nonsensical tirade. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we do not sleep with crazy. She couldn't really blame Horatio for bailing, even if he was kind of a smarmy jerk about it, but abandoning her to the lunatic who'd chased him down while she was trying to figure out what was going on didn't exactly earn him any brownie points in her eyes. It wasn't worth the time it would take to point out to "Miss Mason" how many of her assertions were wildly inaccurate, and, in the case of touching a woman's breast without her consent and blaming it on the cell phone, weirdly misogynistic. It was irrelevant that Maya didn't go to the coffee shop every day (only once in a while in the afternoon, if she happened to be in the neighborhood), and didn't order any of the things Casey had mentioned- who would drink dark roast coffee with two sweeteners, or mochas with extra milk, when chai was a thing that existed? Maybe the crazy white woman thought she was someone else. Maybe she was having some kind of breakdown. Maybe Maya didn't care, because she had no intention of even going back to The Full Pot after this delightful little encounter to find out for sure. She watched Horatio's back for a moment as he disappeared into the crowd, then glanced at the other guests (who were very conspicuously looking elsewhere) and shook her head, turning back to the woman in the painted-on white dress. "Nice job. Real nice," she stated flatly, her voice no louder than it had been a few moments before. "I can't say it's been a pleasure. Have a lovely evening, and let's not do this again sometime." With that, she turned and strode angrily away, feeling marginally better as the full, lightweight hem of her dress flared emphatically with the abruptness of her departure. She wasn't royalty, and this wasn't some historical fiction novel, but in that moment, she could definitely see the appeal of swishing skirts for dramatic purposes. Bodices and corsets, she reflected as she headed toward the main gallery in search of food and more wine, doing her best to put her experience with Horatio and Casey out of her mind, not so much. It wasn't until several minutes later, as she was in the process of flagging down a waiter bearing a tray of glasses, that something he'd said suddenly registered. What the hell did he mean, "scouting?" Unbidden, memories of the recent strangeness- the books, the dreams, the painting, and most of this night, if she was honest- flashed through her mind. Despite the warmth generated by the wine, and the press of bodies near the tables, Maya felt a sudden, inexplicable chill.
  14. Once the initial shock had worn off, both from the interruption and the man-handling, Maya took one look at Horatio's bewildered expression and interposed herself between him and the obviously paranoid (or drunk... or both) Casey. She didn't know what this woman's problem was, but she had already dealt with more than enough crazy for one night, thankyouverymuch, and she was not having it. Disbelief and anger engaged in an all-out battle royale for supremacy in the shelf-lined arena of her mind, with the result being the latter triumphantly claiming possession of the voluminous best-seller, Harry Potter and the Audacity of This Bitch. "Excuse me," she interjected in the overly polite, faintly condescending tone she was often obliged to use when patrons at work became unpleasant or unreasonable. She was nearly as tall as Horatio himself, although lacking his physique, effectively blocking the other woman's view of her target with a tight, aggressively friendly smile that somehow did nothing whatsoever to warm the gaze she directed at the curvy cafe-owner. "It's Casey, right?" She didn't wait for confirmation; Prince Ponytail had just addressed her as such. "Hi. I'm Maya." Again, a near-imperceptible pause before continuing quietly, barely enough time to be considered courtesy and certainly not enough to let her counterpart get a word in edgewise. "I thought, since you decided it's acceptable to intrude on a private conversation and touch my breast without permission, something I sincerely doubt you would appreciate being done to you, you should at least know who I am. Now, I don't know what your problem is, and to be perfectly honest... I, do, not, care." Her voice dropped again, now scarcely more than a conspiratorial whisper, as her forced smile abruptly vanished. "You have stepped waaaay over the line, and you are about to make an enormous ass of yourself, in public, in front of the wealthiest and most powerful people in New York." She broke eye contact long enough to spare a moment's glance at the other partygoers in the vicinity. "...If you haven't already. You two obviously know each other, so maybe you should consider handling your personal business elsewhere?" ...because it isn't welcome here, her level stare added wordlessly.
  15. "Miss... Mason?" Genuine confusion crinkled Maya's features into a somewhat less attractive configuration as she tried to place the name. Someone she was familiar with, in the gallery? "I don't really recognize the n-" "The young woman in the rather... eye-catching white dress." "White dress, white dre- Ohhhhhhhhhh!" Right. The boobs. Got it. On one hand, Maya did actually get it: Casey was stacked, and guys were into that. On the other hand, hadn't she been on his arm when they walked up? "I do remember her, I just don't think I knew her name. She works at the coffee shop...?" It was clearly a question, if a rhetorical one- more for the sake of trying to confirm her own memory than asking for information. She was already regretting not grabbing a fresh glass of wine before engaging stealth mode to track down Mourne, since now she had nothing to do with her hands. "The Full Pot. They make a good dirty chai." Her raised eyebrows and the faint, dismissive shrug of her narrow shoulders were more suggestive than anything she actually said. "I don't really know her beyond that, but... Why ask me to tell you about myself and then ask about her?"
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