Mae shoves her head through her bedroom window.
Her neck twists. A young woman with curly hair and black glasses still knocks on the front door, stopping only to steal glances at her phone. Mae finally hisses in response. “Stop it, you'll wake up my mom!”
The woman looks up and breaks out a relieved smile. “You're home! Oh em gee, Mae, I thought I'd never get in touch with you!” She pronounces OMG as three words, just like Shelby does. “Won't you come to the door?”
Reluctantly, Mae unlatches both locks. She analyzes the stranger: older, a proper adult, but her outfit (mildly athletic with hipster overtones) oozes friendliness, topped by a broad, grinning face. Hand outstretched, she nervously tucks a dark curl behind one ear. “I'm Lucy Stein. It's so wonderful to finally meet you in the flesh, I mean, in person.”
The name sounds familiar. “Are you a reporter?”
“Yeah! I work for Sunny Chicago. I was the one who...well, who tried to help. Can we talk?” Apologetic smile. Nervous shifting from foot to foot. Harmless yet dangerous.
Mae glances back into the house. Courtney lightly snores behind a door ajar. “Not here.”
They end up in a back corner booth at Cafe Pearville, which is nearly empty this early on a Saturday. Waffles are ordered. Orange juice for Lucy and orange soda for Mae. A banjo solo, aggressively twee, trickles from ceiling speakers. Lucy babbles about her latest article and the hashtag it helped promote—“and #iammae is really taking off, the world supports you!”—until Mae, her head swimming, interrupts to clarify.
“Wait. So, strangers are saying #iammae? As in, they're Mae? But they're not Mae. I'm Mae.”
“Of course they know that, it's just a standard way of showing—”
“But Mae is my name. I don't know...” Mae imagines the slimy guys who order drinks from her mother on their phones, smugly swiping her name into little boxes. “It's pretty creepy. I guess it'd be fine if I had thought of it and spread it around, but it's like my name isn't even mine anymore.”
“You're right about that.” Stacks of fried dough arrive, split equally across the table. Lucy nods as she talks, stroking her lower lip with the prongs of her fork. “Your name stands for more than just you. Now it also stands for justice and the embodiment of rape culture.”
That word. Mae feels naked, suddenly. She tugs on her cardigan to make sure it's still there. An image of her own unclothed torso snakes behind her eyes. The image takes its time, refusing to be swept away. “Well I never asked for that. Nobody asked my permission.” It's difficult to look at Lucy. At the milk counter, a young girl stands on tiptoe to reach the sugar cubes. Wormy fingers close around a handful. “Why are you here?”
“I'm glad you asked.” Lucy explains that she has been worried, and that she wants to help Mae tell her own story. “The way you did when you showed up in the middle of your mom's interview. That was intentional, right?”
Of course it was intentional. “No, actually, I stumbled onto that.” (After trying to “stumble” upon the news vans at the high school, she omits.) “It was pretty brilliant, though.” Mae's spoon creates peaks of whipped cream. “Too bad Ethan will win.”
After recounting the meeting with Ethan's parents and lawyer, “He's already lawyered up. He'll probably give an interview any minute. The story will be all about him.”
“We'll find you a lawyer!”
“My mother says I should just settle.”
“You don't have to settle, Mae.”
“She says it'll make it easier. She has this whole sob story about child support payments or something.”
“Huh? What does child support have to do with this?”
“Maybe because they end in two years? No idea.”
Lucy's eyes narrow. She taps something into her phone. “My dad is an attorney. We can find you spectacular representation.”
Mae's bite of waffle wedges itself to the roof of her mouth. It takes all her effort to swallow. Sticky residue remains. She gathers her tote. “Excuse me, I have to go to the restroom.”
And at first Mae does. She sits on the cold toilet and lets her concentration melt into the floor. She appreciates the symmetry of her sneakers. She slips single fingers, one by one, under running water. Upon opening the door she spots the reporter, bent over her phone, still snug at the corner table. Mae keeps walking. Past Lucy. Past the milk counter. Past the barista. Past the propped-open front door. Past Main Street.