Of Thorns and Lightning

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The Subway Station

♦️

It was a slightly overcast Wednesday afternoon in Queens, New York when Meaghan Vitale and Maize Grace Leto got on the subway after school to head into the heart of Queens to see their friend, Peter Lannigan.

Their train wasn’t usually busy at this time of day, and for that they were grateful. After stepping onto the platform, their train arrived and opened its doors and they walked on. Meaghan let out a sigh of relief to finally take her heavy maroon backpack off her shoulders, then free to run her fingers through her hair and pull it up into a loose ponytail. Maize slid her own backpack off, placing it on the plastic bench seat next to her with her arm looped through one of the straps so it wouldn’t go flying down the train at any foreseeable moment.

“How much do you want to bet that when we get there, Peter’s frustrated with a computer code?”

“Everything. I doubt he’ll look at us, he’s so determined to program that damn software system of his to impress MIT. He doesn’t even have to worry, he’s getting scholarships thrown at him from every direction. I mean, we get obsessed over things sometimes, but not like Peter. We can’t even take the kid in public, he just looks lost whenever he’s away from his laptop.”

“That’s going to be today’s goal. We’re taking him out of his apartment and we’re going to go do something. I’ve had a bad week, we’re going to have fun, damn it!” Maize exclaimed with a laugh.

The ride to the stop in Queens closest to Peter’s house was over fairly fast, the train didn’t make too many stops on their way. The girls grabbed their things and headed towards the doors, ready to step off the train and onto the platform. The walk to Peter’s building was scenic and only a handful of blocks. They knew the route well; to them, Peter’s house was always their safe space.

When they reached the building, Peter’s Aunt Malorie buzzed them through, and they climbed the stairs to his floor. In the stairwell, the interior was showing its age. The metal railings were losing their shine and had a thin layer of grime on them, and no one had bothered to paint them for years. The vinyl flooring was cracking at the edge of the stairs, slowly flaking away.

When they reached Peter’s floor they opened the heavy door with a small window near the side and stepped into the hallway. Maize pulled out her key ring and sorted through the attachments to find the key to his apartment in case the door wasn’t already opened for them. It wasn’t, and she heard voices coming from inside, one she didn’t particularly recognize. They knocked on the door before unlocking it, opening it and stepping inside.

Maize and Meaghan put their backpacks by the door, then placing the voices coming from the kitchen. For a few moments, they stayed in the living room, not wanting to intrude in their conversation. They had been heard and the voices began to move with feet accompanying them to the living room to greet the girls. Aunt Malorie was first, then Peter but he was talking to a middle-aged man whose face they had yet to see. He was dressed in an expensive suit and his watch glinted in the afternoon sun, the gold and diamonds reflecting against the walls as he moved. He had a clean haircut and a neat goatee, and a deep tenor voice with no lack of projection that resonated in the apartment.

Maize looked on the table next to the door and saw the keys for a Lamborghini among the other humble keys. Meaghan saw it too, but she kept more of an eye on Maize who was slowly but actively reaching out to the bowl, her fingers creeping up towards the set of keys that could only belong to the man in the suit. Meaghan pushed her hand away with a loud slap that everyone heard, followed by a harsh whisper of a scold and a piercing look. Maize then shoving her hands in her pockets and keeping them there. Though, in the process of slapping, Maize managed to grab the keys and was holding them in her hand in her pocket, Meaghan unamused.

“I’ll give them back!” She muttered.

“How?!”

“Slip them in his pocket when he’s not looking!”

“Yeah, good luck with that.”

Just then, the conversation shifted to them. Aunt Malorie was the first to speak.

“Hey, girls. Can I get you anything? I’ve got lemonade and egg salad.”

“Sounds good to me, thanks, Aunt Malorie!” Maize answered enthusiastically. Meaghan agreed. Then, Peter and the man in the suit greeted them.

“Hey, guys! Good to see you.”

“Yeah, yeah, same to you, who’s this?” Maize asked, pointing to the guy who looked like a million bucks. He answered for himself with a flat out lie that they saw right through.

“I’m Peter’s Uncle William.”

“Yeah, one that was just leaving!” Peter butt in, slightly uncomfortable.

“The hell you’re not! Don’t even try to play, I’ve known Peter my whole life, Mr. Townsend.” Maize called him out.

“MAIZE!” Meaghan exclaimed.

“Oh, it’s okay. Peter wanted to keep this on the down low, but we were discussing MIT and the Townsend Foundation scholarship. Your friends a cool guy, you know. But he’s right, I was just leaving, though.” He explained, then he looked confused.

“Hey, Maize, right?”

“That’s me, Mr. Townsend.”

“Do I know you from anywhere? Are you involved with anything of mine?”

“No, I guess I have one of those faces. This is the first time we’ve met, and it’s been a pleasure.”

“Okay,” he paused. “You just remind me completely of someone that I used to know really well.” He mentioned, then seemingly shrugged it off but still was trying to place her. He headed towards the door in the meantime, and Maize took this chance to slip his keys in his pocket.

“Has anyone seen my keys? I swear I put them down right here.” He asked. Meaghan elbowed Maize hard in the ribs, causing her to cough.

“Maybe they’re in your pockets, sir.” She suggested innocently. He surely found them there but didn’t know how they got there. He accepted it, though, and said goodbye before walking out the door and leaving. Peter laughed.

“Maize, since when did you become a pickpocket? I saw what you did.” Peter spoke.

“God, I’m sorry I wanted to drive his car! He’s got more than enough money to replace it, a Lambo is probably completely replaceable to him and the cost is chunk change!”

“Doesn’t mean you can steal his keys!” Both Meaghan and Peter agreed.

“It’s still weird he paid you a visit in person. He doesn’t strike me as that type of guy. What does he call himself? The millionaire playboy philanthropist?”

“That’s it, but why can’t he make a personal visit?”

“Yeah, I’m sure he does those all the time. He’s probably crazy busy! I don’t know, guys.”

Peter knew why William Townsend had shown up at his house. William told him to keep it quiet since everything about the nature of the visits was confidential, so he did. So far, he was failing at lying about it; lying never felt natural to him. He couldn’t hold his poker face and it just wasn’t ever believable. Maize knew it too. She was skeptical.

Then, to break the silence, Aunt Malorie brought them out their snacks to fuel up before they went out for the evening. They thanked her and she went to relax in her room, leaving the three alone.

“What do you want to do tonight? I’m thinking about a movie. I need to drown my sorrows in popcorn and an oversized slushee. Thoughts?”

“I’ve got homework, guys. AP Computer Science doesn’t do itself, no matter how hard I’ve tried to write a program to do it.”

“Peter, it’s Friday! Come on, we miss hanging out with you. Come back to us, let’s have a little fun.” Meaghan persuaded, poking Peter.

“Fine, let’s go see a movie. I’ll buy the ice cream afterward.” Peter agreed before they all headed out. It was almost as if he was in a trance for so long and it took extensive coaxing to set him free again. Like he needed permission to be himself again.

The three of them sat out on the patio of the ice cream store and shared an enormous sundae. Maize and Meaghan decided that it was a good time to set an intervention for their friend.

“Peter, are you sure you want to do this? Like, be a big-name programmer?” Maize asked, out of the blue. Peter needed a moment to think.

“Yeah, I’m good at it and I like it, I’ve got my college plan set, why?”

“It just seems to suck you in and tear you down. You say you like it, but I don’t know if you actually like it. I don’t want it to be the only thing you’ve ever tried and set your whole life based on it, never knowing what you truly love.” Maize explained. Meaghan chimed in.

“We’re not asking you to change your plan or anything, Peter. We just want to make sure you’re happy with what you’re doing. This just seems to have changed you, you seem different and we’re not sure if it’s for the better.”

“Thanks for your concern, guys. I’m sorry I’ve been locked away and impersonal. I just have a lot going on I can’t talk to you about.” He answered vaguely, eating another spoonful of ice cream.

“Is that your thing with William?” Maize asked. Peter dropped his spoon. “I just guessed that was the something.”

“Yeah. And if you think I’m different now, I’m not even going to be the same person soon. I don’t want to worry you, it’s not a bad change but I’m just worried about losing my two best friends.”

They both reached across the table and grabbed one of his hands with both of theirs, reassuring him.

“Peter, I don’t think you could ever lose us,” Meaghan said caringly.

“Yeah, dude. We’re not going anywhere.” Maize reaffirmed.

It killed Peter that he couldn’t tell them.

It killed him to know that they didn’t know what was going to happen to them and that the promises they were making now might not mean anything.

Their friendship would never be the same, all three of them would change more than they could have ever imagined.

And the promises they made now would be reduced to absolutely nothing in a matter of moments, much faster than they could ever dream of saving them.

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