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This was Maia Duncan’s favorite time of day. This was the short thirty minutes she had to herself to be whomever she chose…a pretend world that seemed to be the only safe place a twelve year old girl with low self-esteem could dream up and finally become an equal with her over confident counterparts. The anonymity of the internet.
Although her parents constantly lavished her with compliments of her blossoming beauty, Maia did not delude herself into believing she had striking, good looks nor did she wish for them. But she did pray one day her unappealing overbite and pimply face would grow into the swan her mother promised she would become someday.
Prtygrl14: “What are you doing?”
Shygrl12: “Nothin’ ‘bout 2 start my homework. What ‘bout you?”
Prtygrl14: “Nuttin’ much. I’m tryin on sum nu clothes 4 an audition.”
This revelation brought a twinge of envy to Maia’s heart. Not that she wasn’t happy for her friend, but she couldn’t help but feel jealous of someone with the confidence and spirit as Pamela, her new friend she’s come to know as Pretty Girl 14.
Shygrl12: “What kinda audition? Ooh, don’t tell me you get 2 model on a runway, I’d just die with envy.”
Prtygrl14: “LMAO! I wish! No, but I do get 2 model some pretty cool bathing suits & clothes. Some I get 2 keep.”
After Maia’s parent’s divorce she could only dream of new clothes. Her father wasn’t as generous with the child support, so Maia had to wear hand-me-downs from family members or church member’s children who no longer had a use for their old clothes. Just the thought of having a new outfit was enough to make Maia drool. A coy smile played on her lips as she got lost in the notion for a brief moment.
Prtygrl14: “Hey ya still there?”
Shygrl12: “Yea, just dreaming about some nu clothes. U’re so lucky.”
Prtygrl14: “I’m not lucky, it’s easy. All u hav 2 do is take a few pics & they pay u. It only takes a couple hrs for ea photo shoot. U shud try it.”
Maia looked at her reflection in the computer screen. She was not pleased with what looked back at her. In her mind, she was not the budding flower that would blossom into the beautiful rose her mother would promise each day. What she saw was a dark mop of hair that could not be tamed, pimples that covered her cheeks and forehead that resembled a crater catastrophe and features that were too harsh to be considered feminine…thanks to her father’s dominating features.
Maia let out a piteous sigh.
Shygrl12: “I’ll leave the modeling 2 u. I’m not born w/looks…brains maybe LMBO”
Prtygrl14: “U don’t give urself enuf credit. There’s nuttin a lil makeup can’t fix. Trust me, I kno.”
Shygrl12: “Only beautiful ppl say things like that. Girls like me kno better. I need more than makeup to fix all of my problems.”
Prtygrl14: “Do u have a webcam?”
Shygrl12: “No. My mom says I’m not old enuf 2 b responsible w/that kinda technology. I think it’s bcuz she’s 2 cheap.”
Prtygrl14: “If u were a model u cud make ur own money & buy ur own things. That’s what I did. I have all the cool gadgets now…my mom said we were poor, but I think she was just being cheap 2.”
Shygrl12: “I kno what u mean. They just don’t understand what teenagers need to b cool these days. They nvr had internet or needed a cell phone. I wish I did have my own money so I cud buy myself all of the nice things other kids have.”
Prtygrl14: “Well, the guy that takes my pics is pretty cool. Mayb he will let u take a few pics and pay u. Ur mother won’t have 2 kno. It’s not like she’ll b browsing thru teen magazines Haha!”
Maia could feel the yearning at the pit of her belly, but with that came all of the warning bells and whistles her mother planted in her head to make her afraid to do something as daring as defy her when it came to internet safety. Still, her mother didn’t know what it was like to be a teenager in this time...how other kids teased her for not having the latest or nicest things.
Besides, she and Pamela had been chatting for over a month and she was nice. She was another teenager just like herself, with a mother who didn’t understand what it was like to be teased for being poor. Yet, Pamela had done something about it. Something Maia wished she was brave enough to do herself.
Again, Maia got caught up in her daydream about new clothes and shoes and maybe a few new gadgets…like a cell phone or a webcam so she and Pamela could see each other and talk instead of typing all the time. That would be so freaking awesome, Maia thought to herself.
Shygrl12: “Wudn’t he need a parent’s sig 2 take pics?”
Prtygrl14: “No! I take pics all the time. My mom nvr knows where I get my money. I tell her I save up my allowance. LMAO…she’s so lame.”
Shygrl12: “I don’t get allowance.”
Prtygrl14: “Oh, ur mom is cheap! U need 2 think seriously about going 2 one of the auditions. U’d b surprised how easy it is.”
Maia could hear her mother’s keys jingling as she attempted to unlock the front door. Over the last month, Maia’s keen sense of hearing increased ever since their outburst about Maia’s constant preoccupation with chatting on the internet. Besides, she was not supposed to even think about getting on the computer until all of her homework was done and she hadn’t even started yet.
Shygrl12: “My mom’s here…gotta go!”
Prtygrl14: “Ok, but think about it. Talk 2moro.”
The screen went black.
Maia raced to the bed and dumped her books out of her backpack and began reading a random book just as her mother walked into her room. Maia hated that her mother didn’t respect her privacy and would just walk in without knocking. But that was another argument Maia lost, with the threat of her mother taking the door off the hinges if she ever found the door locked.
It seemed more and more she and her mother were at odds about one thing or another. One day it’s her internet time…another it’s her privacy. No matter what Maia seemed to want to do, her mother always found fault. Nothing she did seemed to be good enough for her mother. She didn’t even allow Maia to talk about boys…even her favorite boy band was off limits in her mother’s house.
But living with her father was out of the question. With the contentious divorce between her parents, Maia was lucky if she saw him once a month or during the holidays. He did everything he could to avoid his ex-wife and Maia was beginning to understand why. Ever since her mother didn’t have her father around to nag, Maia seemed to be her new target. There was nothing she could do or say to satisfy her mother and everything became a big fight. There wasn’t a day Maia didn’t wish she was 18 so she could finally move out and be on her own and make her own decisions.
Brenda Duncan walked into Maia’s room and looked around as if to spy a boy hiding in the corner of the room. She always had that suspicious appearance ever since she had to entrust Maia to come home alone and become another latch-key kid in a single parent home. To her mother, it was akin to being an outcast in society…a step away from teen pregnancy, drugs and alcohol…and in no particular order.
As her mother did her surreptitious perusal, Maia continued to pretend she was engrossed in her studies. But what she was really doing was thinking about how suffocating and untrusting her mother had become since the divorce.
“How was school?” Brenda finally asked when everything was met with her satisfaction.
Maia could see the physical relief her mother displayed that Maia did not defy her by having anyone in the house when she wasn’t home and she was not on the internet. “It was okay.” Maia never looked up from her book. Lately it was safer to keep her responses to her mother short and sweet. It seemed the only way to prevent an argument.
“Doing your homework I see,” Brenda remarked, attempting small talk.
But Maia was not buying it. She was not going to let her mother bait her into conversation. Before long, she’ll be in a heated discussion about her worthless father or how Maia was not doing well enough in school and her grades were dropping…anything to start a fight to vent her own ineptness.
“Yeah,” was all Maia said in response.
Brenda stared at Maia for a long moment but didn’t say anything else. Maia knew she wanted to say something, but she didn’t. Whatever she wanted to say, she kept it to herself and walked out of the room to leave Maia to her own thoughts. Thoughts about how nice it would be to finally have some of the things in life the other kids in her school had. How nice it would be not to be talked about because she didn’t have something as simple as a cell phone, even kids younger than she had one. It was embarrassing, but that was the least of the things that made her feel ashamed of her circumstances.
Maia played around with her food on her plate as Pamela’s words bounced around in her head. She almost smiled at the moment she came to the realization she had already decided that she was going to do it. But her mother’s stern scrutiny prevented her smile from appearing on her face. Instead Maia remained a blank slate, stoic and unexpressive…a trait she learned from watching her father over the years.
“What are you thinking about?” Brenda finally asked.
Maia knew she would not be able to fool her mother for long, but she knew she wasn’t going to confess the truth either. So she had thought of a lie earlier she knew her mother would fall for. Like Pamela had said earlier…mothers are lame.
“I have a friend in school who’s going to give me some of her clothes,” Maia lied.
Brenda had her pride, but it was long hidden by the necessity of survival. There was a time when she’d reject the charity of another, but after the divorce it was a bitter pill to have to not only ask for, but accept the assistance from strangers. Maia knew it killed her, but she liked having the same things as other kids her age. Just because her parents were no longer together didn’t mean she should suffer.
Brenda’s face was suspicious, but she didn’t voice it. She only asked, “Why would she offer to give you her clothes?”
Maia shrugged as if that simple gesture explained all of her mother’s unanswered questions.
“I’ve never heard you talk about Pamela before. Is she a new friend?” Brenda asked.
Maia had forgotten how Brenda was when it came to knowing everyone she knew. Maia had to think quickly if she wanted to avoid another blow-up with her mother and get caught up in her lie. “She’s new. She’s only been at the school for a month.”
“Maybe I’ll get to meet this new friend,” Brenda said. It was the tone she used when she didn’t completely believe what Maia was saying, but came up short of calling her a liar.
“Sure, maybe you’ll see her when you drop me off. Sometimes she waits for me…but sometimes she’s late so you might not get a chance to meet her,” Maia lied again.
“That’ll be nice. I like knowing all of the people you know. Is she nice?” Brenda asked. It was her subtle way of asking if she talked about boys or sex or anything she didn’t deem appropriate for Maia.
“Yeah. You’ll like her. She’s smart and beautiful. She’s a model,” Maia said before she could stop herself. She had gotten so caught up in her own lie; she had carried it too far. Now she was adding more information for her mother question her about. She wanted to bite her deceitful tongue from her mouth.
“A model, huh? What type of model?” Brenda asked.
“Um..I don’t know. Just a model. She gets clothes from some of her photo shoots and some of them she said she’ll give to me,” Maia said.
Brenda’s lips pressed into a thin line, a gesture she used to prevent the words she felt from spewing from her mouth. Maia had seen this expression a million times when her mother didn’t want to fight, but the words were just on the tip of her tongue to throw an innocent conversation into a downward spiral which lead to yelling, crying and hurt feelings.
“Maia, please tell me this isn’t one of your friends you’ve met on the internet,” she finally said it. It was too serious to keep to herself.
Maia let out an audible sigh and dropped her fork in her plate with a loud clank. “You never trust me. You always want to find something to fight about. Now I see why daddy left!”
Brenda leapt from her chair in a shot, her first instinct to slap Maia across the face, but thought better of it…counted to ten and sat back down. She was not going to be goaded into a fight by a 12 year old when this was serious. Maia had no idea the predators who stalked young, naïve little girls like herself. It was her job as her mother to educate and protect her.
“Maia you’re only 12 years old, you have no idea the evil that’s out there in the world waiting for someone like you to prey on,” Brenda said calmly. “I don’t say these things to fight, I say it because I love you and I want you to be protected and safe.”
“Well, you can’t save me from everything. When are you going to let me learn things on my own and make my own mistakes? You’re not always going to be there for me…then what? You need to trust me to take care of myself and let me grow up,” Maia made an impassioned plea.
Maia loved her mother, but she was feeling smothered by her mother’s love. All she wanted was to have a chance to do some of the things regular kids did. What was so wrong with going to the movies once in a while? What was so terrible talking about boys with her friends? It wasn’t like she was going to leave with a stranger or have unprotected sex and get pregnant. She was smarter than that. Still, she resented the fact that her mother didn’t trust her enough to let her make some of the decisions for herself. She was growing up, but her mother was treating her like she was still a baby.
“Maia, I know you think that I’m not letting you grow up, but it’s not that. I don’t want anything to happen to you. I want you to be safe,” Brenda said.
A lone tear rolled down Maia’s cheek. She swiped at it with disgust. She hated to fight with her mother, but she also hated that her mother treated her like a child. She was growing up and her mother was going to have to get used to it. “I’m tired of you treating me like a baby. You don’t let me do anything. You even try to pick my friends for me. Give me some credit to pick my own friends.”
Brenda was silenced for the first time in her life. She had nothing she could say. Maia was right, but her maternal instincts kept telling her she was doing the right thing, but she remembered being 12 and her and her mother had a similar fight…how she resented her mother for not allowing her the freedom to make decisions on her own. As a result, it prompted Brenda to rebel at an early age…another fear she held, but refused to face at the moment.
“Alright, I’ll back off a little. But if I see where you’re not making the right decision or choice in friends, I’m going to reassert my authority…no bones about it,” Brenda said, but conceded that Maia should be allowed to select her own friends. She could always intervene if needed.
This time Maia did smile. It was a hard fought, but genuine smile. The one day Maia decided she would defy her mother, she decides to concede to her demand for more freedom. Maia should have felt horrible for breaking her mother’s trust by what she was planning, but she was too excited to think about the ramifications. Anyway, if her mother never found out what would it hurt?
Brenda smiled back at her daughter, finally feeling as though they had reached an agreement…praying she was not going to live to regret this day. It was a break through, of sorts. It was a day that was bound to come, but Brenda admittedly was not ready for it to be now. Secretly she wished she had a few more years before Maia would assert her need for freedom and independence.
“Hey! Don’t forget your backpack,” Brenda yelled through the passenger side window when Maia jumped from the car and ran towards the school.
Maia trotted back and grabbed her backpack from her mother. She could hardly contain the grin that took over her face since the night before. After she went to her room last night, she chatted with Pamela for a few minutes…long enough to tell her she was ready to go to the photo shoot with her. She prayed she would not be embarrassed for being so lacking in the looks department, but somehow Pamela made her feel like she could accomplish anything with a little blush and lipstick.
Deep down, Maia knew this day was going to change her life forever. And though those warning bells and whistles her mother planted in her head tried to take up residence in her psyche, she ignored it and pushed it to the back of her mind. She was not going to let this opportunity go by. Who knows, one day she may become a famous model and have a very interesting story to tell about how it all began…with the friend on the internet.
With that thought Maia let out a short giggle.
“You seem to be in a good mood this morning,” Brenda said. “I’m glad our little talk last night makes you happy.”
Maia smiled at her mother. Yeah, mothers are lame, she thought. If only her mother knew what she was really thinking about she’d be grounded until she was 100.
“I’m glad we had our talk. You can trust me to take care of myself,” Maia said before she turned to run towards the school and meet up with Pamela in the back of the school as planned.
“Maia! Don’t forget to come straight home from school. Your father will be there to pick you up for the weekend,” Brenda yelled to her daughter’s retreating back.
Maia turned and waved to her mother as she drove away and out of sight.
Maia ran to the back of the school to meet Prtygrl14 to start her new life...
This was also the day Maia vanished into thin air...
Copyright © 2010 Valerie Maarten