People wouldn’t think it of her, but Franziska is actually quite good at video games.
Her favorites in particular are rogues and puzzles—she likes a game with some hidden truth to uncover, some evil to dispel. She likes learning button combinations: the right formula for an action. Cause and effect are constant truths. It is a language Franziska understands all too well.
Maya, on the other hand—perched at the foot of the couch between Franziska’s legs, her head like fire in close proximity—is utterly incomprehensible.
Morning seeps through between the curtains, bright sunlight strangling the air in its featherlight grip. It smells of coffee and dewdrops, Franziska’s mug on the coffee table still steaming. She had taken one sip, set it down, and has paid it no mind ever since.
“I’m not very good at these games,” Maya confesses. On the TV screen, Franziska is playing assistant to a notorious card-game cheater from a bygone era. She pointedly ignores Maya’s hair brushing gently against her skin by way of the electric fan’s breeze. It is too hot for anything but shorts, she reasons, rationalizing away why she can’t just pull her legs up onto the couch and further from Maya.
“It takes concentration,” Franziska says, “and practice.”
She is relying on the latter, now, her concentration being taken up elsewhere. Her character leans over on-screen to pour wine while the card-cheat slips an extra ace from her pocket. Franziska fumbles the pour, wine spilling onto the yellowing tablecloth.
If it were in real life, she’d slam her fist into the table, hopefully smashing it in two. As it is, her eye twitches minutely, and Maya laughs.
“Maybe you’ve been playing this too long,” Maya quips, leaning back even further against the couch and Fransiska’s legs.
Cause and effect: Maya, and the racing of Franziska’s pulse.
“Maybe,” she murmurs, noncommittal. Maya tilts her head up to look at Franziska through her bangs and grins, holding up a hand.
“Gimme the remote. Let’s watch something.”
“If you put on that godforsaken Steel Samurai reboot, I swear to all that is holy,” Franziska says, intentionally not finishing the threat. Nevertheless, she saves the game and snags the remote, placing it gently in Maya’s palm, trying not to flinch at the brush of their hands.
Maya cheerily starts scrolling through options, and Franziska leans forward to hook her fingers around the handle of her mug and tug it toward her. Suddenly, Maya twitches, and Franziska is acutely aware that her chest is pressed against Maya’s head. She flushes and jerks back, almost spilling her coffee all over her lap.
“Foolish,” Franziska stammers to no one in particular.
“Um,” Maya starts, uncharacteristically flustered. “I couldn’t find anything.”
Usually, Maya suggests all manner of terrible TV—ever the advocate of enjoyment and experience over technical quality. Franziska takes a sip and tastes daybreak, summertime.
She has never had the courage to address this: the strange tension between them. Her own heartbeat. Franziska is not in the practice of emotional vulnerability. She would rather let things be—treasure what they have—before risking the inevitability of change.
A foolish wish, she knows: to want what they are right now, forever. To dream that morning never shifts into afternoon, that years don’t start to fade into each other. She is cognizant of the fact that, as far as fools go, she is one and the same.
“Fran?” Maya twists to look up at her properly. “You alright? We don’t have to watch anything if you’re not feeling up to it.”
Franziska swallows thickly. “I’m fine,” she says. Just once, she wishes her voice were gentle.
“Okay,” Maya says carefully, turning back to the TV. She watches the black screen for a moment; from the back of her head, Franziska can tell she’s unsure what to say. Maya, who always jumps headfirst, stays quiet.
“Maya,” Franziska says, swallowing thickly. She leans forward, just a bit, to see that Maya’s on her phone, having pulled up an article with a title that reads, How to Talk to Your Friend When They Seem Down.
Any apprehension building up in Franziska’s throat crumbles and she can only laugh, freely and openly. Her eyes scrunch up and she can scarcely breathe for all the humor bubbling in her chest. Maya just pouts.
“I’m doing my best here,” she says, amusement splashed under her fake indignation. Franziska can’t even respond, laughing to tears.
“You—I—” she splutters, trying in vain to pull together a comprehensive sentence, not even sure what she wants to say.
“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” Maya grumbles, rolling her eyes affectionately. “I’m hilarious, et cetera.”
“You can’t—” Franziska pulls herself together enough to choke out this one sentence. “You can’t use et cetera with only one list item.”
Maya turns fully and Franziska flushes at the image, Maya situated at the foot of the couch right there. The situation as it’s presented itself is lost on her though, as Maya has an unamused frown settled firmly on her mouth.
“The English language is a construct,” Maya says gravely. “I can do whatever I want with it.”
“Sure,” says Franziska, “except that the point of language is to be able to communicate, so if you don’t use it correctly, then your communication is ineffective, negating the point of language.”
(She’s deflecting from the strange way her heart is flipping over in her stomach with academic talk. No big deal.
“You got what I was saying, though,” Maya points out.
She did, but Franziska says, “I didn’t.”
“Maybe your problem’s in comprehension then,” Maya suggests.
Franziska lets out an affronted scoff. “How dare you.”
Maya shrugs, grinning. “I’m very daring.”
She’s tempted to make some quip about that—along the lines of wouldn’t I know it—but instead, Franziska says, fully earnest and soft, “You are.”
She resents her mouth for moving before her brain. Fast-talking is a lawyer specialty, necessary for expediting long court cases presided by a judge that requires too much explaining to make any sense of things. Her mind works fast and her tongue moves faster, creating arguments that she uncovers along the way, making connections for her.
In other cases, though, it gives her this: a rare moment of vulnerability, when she says something she means. A minor case of self-reflection.
“Fran?” Maya cocks her head to the side, her eyes wide like she believes in what good there is nestled deep inside Franziska, pulling it out and examining it like a missing lung. Winded, she takes a deep breath.
She can’t press a combination of buttons to make this easier. Her actions can have mixed results. There is not just one right way to say the things she’s struggling to put into words.
Franziska hates uncertainty, hates it like the ocean crawls away from the moon, ever pulled back again. As soon as she thinks she’s figured everything out, sirens camp the waves and beckon back her desperation.
Maya tries again. “You okay?” She peers into Franziska’s face, searching for answers Franziska doesn’t have.
She can only swallow thickly and try a smile, a tiny one. Towering over Maya, she knows the word trembling in her gut, and does not say it. “I’m okay,” she murmurs instead, reaching back over to the remote. “Let’s just watch that show you like.”
Unconvinced, Maya shrugs and turns back around, leaning her head back against the couch. Franziska turns the TV on to that god awful Steel Samurai reboot and resumes her obsession with their minor skin contact.
If she does not press the buttons, things don’t have to change. She can content herself with this—late morning and pajamas and TV—for just a bit longer. Just a bit.
Selfishly, foolishly, she hangs on to the miracle time gives them.