“Love… they think it’s all about love” Maya’s thoughts were loud, louder than usual. She brought her thumbs up to the temples and massaged them firmly. The rest of the fingers rested on the forehead. The head felt like it was a stone pulled toward the ground by the strong force of gravity. She rested this stone-heavy head on the headrest of the airplane seat she was sitting in. With her eyes closed, she let the eight fingers slide down and cover the eyes.
“What if love is just a joke of the universe? What if there’s no happiness in it?” A familiar voice sounded in her head again. The voice that she always took as her own, but maybe it belonged to someone else. She asked herself that, and it was more like an idea without a particular timbre. Just a freely moving thought.
“So maybe this voice doesn’t really belong to me?”
“Yes, it does,” the voice replied.

Five hours of the flight passed painfully slow. Every minute felt like a couple of them. Maya couldn’t focus on doing anything nor just getting some sleep. Instead, she was thinking, trying to figure out if the voice is her own or someone else’s.
She tried to trick it several times, but even if the voice belongs to a stranger, it was almost impossible to get to know it for sure. The stranger could easily read her mind if it was in her head, thus, after long hours of thinking, she didn’t come to any valuable conclusions. She couldn’t even establish when the voice occurred for the first time.
“I was here since the beginning,” the voice stated defending itself.
“A-ha! So you were you say!” She laughed in her head, satisfied to this level that a smile appeared on her face. “If you are you, it means that you are not me. Gotcha!”
I am you and you are me. You keep us separated because you have an inner conversation, but we are one. We are you. Me. Us.”

The plane stopped, and the seatbelt signs have been switched off. The girl unbuckled, stood up, and squeezed out into the aisle that was already full of other passengers standing up with their belongings ready to leave the airplane. She took her carry-on luggage slowly proceeding to the exit.
“Maybe it’s all about fun? Love is overrated” the suspicious voice spoke again. “Just have a great time. It’s all I’m asking you for. A little bit of entertainment. Excitement…”
“Ha! You again!” She almost cried out.
You is me. I is you” the voice repeated patiently, but also like it was bored of her constant mistrust.

Maya scrolled through her Spotify playlist, searching for a song that will put her in a good mood.
“I can have fun” she acknowledged herself. “I deserve it, after all those months of mourning.”
“I deserve to have fun” she repeated in her mind using a mantra pattern, she learned from an online meditation program. “I deserve to have fun.”
Another powerful tool she discovered a couple of years ago that helped when she was down was to smile, so she smiled to herself. “You deserve to have fun,” the voice said.
You…” she started again.
“Oh, stop it!” The voice interrupted her, annoyed.
Maya left the terminal with a fake smile on her face that was doing the job, trying to leave worries behind. “I deserve to have fun,” she kept repeating to herself.
-Hi! You’re here again! – A tall blond man approached her with a broad, honest smile. His white teeth that seemed to be even whiter because of contrast with his tanned skin flashed at her. – I can’t believe it!
-I cannot too – she muttered and chuckled letting him hug her. Her head rested on his big, muscled arm. It felt good. It felt so good to be in somebody’s arms, and these arms were strong and… safe. It was like a guarantee of protection. Something she hasn’t feel for a long time. They weren’t the arms, but at least they were good arms.
He showed his extremely white teeth in another genuine smile. Their eyes met, and she grinned at him, this time sincerely.

– Are you ready? Do you want to get coffee? It’s a long drive – the man asked. Maya nodded.
Her Americano was hot, so she removed the lid to let it cool off. As they walked towards the car she tripped and hot black liquid spilled over her hand. A few drops landed on her pants leaving a big, dark stain.

– Great! How will I clean it now?! – She sighed and rolled her eyes more concerned about the stain on the trousers than burned skin.

– How can I help you? – Tom’s outstretched arm was reaching out for the coffee cup.

– Nah, I’m fine – Maya almost snapped at him for trying to be helpful. – It’s just… I knew that it would happen! – She sighed again, looking at the brown stain on her jeans.

– So why did you do it in the first place? – The man asked with the laughter in his voice.

– Why… what…? – Maya glanced at him, annoyed.

– Kidding, kidding – Tom lifted up his hands on both sides of his body and faced palms at her in a gesture of peace, submission. His face was smiley and good. She brightened up and placed the lid back.
“Maybe that way was better…” She told herself.

They started walking again. Tom’s hand gently landed on Maya’s lower back while he was leading her to the car.
She was searching for silver, convertible Mercedes, which she knew from her previous visit, but she couldn’t spot it. The car that flashed its lights in response to Tom pressing the unlock button on the remote control was a black sedan Volvo.

– Did you get a new car? – She asked.

– This? No. No, no. It’s a good car. New, but not new. I have it for a while – he explained opening the passenger door for her. – Do you prefer the Mercedes?

– No – she shook her head to emphasize her short answer.
She snorted, keeping her eyes on him. He smiled in return.

Maya didn’t care much about luxurious cars or lifestyle. At least not that much like – she knew – the man cared. He liked to be noticed – yes, that’s a fact, but there’s no harm in it. He worked hard to achieve his status, so he had all the rights to display his goods and privileges. To show off. But still… in Maya’s opinion “show off” was “show off”. Two words with pejorative meaning.
Although Maya tried to understand since she has briefly learned his story, she couldn’t help judging him. He was a good man, she didn’t doubt it at all, but also he was a player, he was a mess.
The left corner of her lips twitched in a half-smile. She liked the man even though very often she found him pathetic in his actions. Sometimes… sometimes she found him cute and lovable too.

– This one is more practical and doesn’t stand out – he shut the door with a wide smile on his face.

“More practical for what? You don’t even know this guy!” The voice whispered. She watched her friend bounce stepping around the car to the driver’s side. He got in. Looked at her, their eyes met, and started the engine. She tried to smile, but all of a sudden, her face muscles refused to listen to her. She hung the gaze on him, her body froze, her consciousness unwillingly delving into herself.
“He is too polite, don’t you think? And since when he doesn’t want to stand out? He loves being eccentric, surrounded by expensive stuff!”
“Shhh! Shut up!” She tried to push the voice away.
“It is the only reason he wants to have a thing with you. Do you think he likes you? You’re just a luscious, young, crazy chick in his eyes.”
Maya said nothing, not wanting to get into a dispute with the voice, with herself but eventually, she gave up.
“No. And even if… he is nothing to me either. So it’s the only fair if it’s that way.”
“Oh, is it?”

– Are you okay? – She heard a familiar voice from afar. – Maya?
“Is it?!” The voice repeated the question in a high-pitched, adenoidal tone, almost unbearable. The girl contorted her face at all the biting remarks she heard, and timbre hurting her senses, then, shook her head. She imagined that the voice was an annoying fly that might fly away if she chases it away, so she tried very hard to visualize it, and the voice was gone.

– Oh… I’m sorry! – Maya aroused, anxious about what just happened. – I must have been somewhere… somewhere else, I guess… – she chuckled to cover anxiety in her voice.

The ride was pleasant, the view outside – incredible. The girl enjoyed the prevailing silence in the car as well as in her head. She smiled delighted, watching deep-green potato fields spreading widely, rolling hills looking like waves of ground, sprinkled with flowers, and here and there, far in the horizon, serious mountains that tops might be covered with snow all year long. Her eyes admired trees standing lonely somewhere in grassland, in the same way as they admired dark conifer forests seeming to never end. Nature was beautiful, stunning, hypnotic, calming.

It was the beginning of May, beautiful springtime in Sweden when it is warm enough during a day to mistake it for summer, however chilly at night to remember that summer hasn’t come yet. Sunny, long days encouraged to stay outside, so in big cities, many Swedes walked or cycled in the working week, and traveled to the countryside for weekends.
It was Wednesday, thus traffic outside the city of Stockholm wasn’t bad. Tom’s profession allowed him to be flexible with his working schedule. They drove route 77 towards Narven located on the East coast of Sweden.

– So… how’s your flight? – The man tried to initiate a conversation.

– Fine – Maya answered shortly roused from the stupor.

– Did you manage to get some rest? I bet you’re tired! – Tom continued.

– I was… I’m fine – she took her eyes off the view, looked at the driver, and then smiled. He tried, she knew it. “There’s no reason to be grumpy,” she told herself. – The flight wasn’t full. I slept for the greatest time – she lied.
It was a good lie, for a good reason – so-called a white lie. Knowledge of this made her smile wider. The man smiled back as in relief.

– Ready to have fun?

– Yaaas! – She exclaimed, faking enthusiasm. – Mmm… By the way… where exactly are we going?

– To my lake house – Tom’s voice all of a sudden turned blank while giving this short, not detailed answer.

– Which is…? – Maya didn’t know why, but she felt like she actually should know where exactly she is going to spend the night. Maybe she should have been interested in it beforehand, but better late than never.

– Oh… what? – This time it was Tom who looked like he was somewhere else, lost in thought or very focused on the road.

– The lake house – Maya said firmly, watching carefully a pensive face of her partner.

– Ahh! Sorry! We have to stop by a supermarket to get something for dinner! I just realized… What do you fancy? – The man explained chaotically.

– Yea… fine, but… Tom? Where’s the house? – The girl insisted. Her voice trembled, body shuddered.

– The… Ah! Sorry… – He turned to her and smiled apologetically. – By Norrtäljeviken lake. We missed the exit.

– Oh… I’m sorry… – Maya mumbled feeling embarrassed with her sudden outburst of panic.

– What are you sorry about, silly?

– I don’t… It’s just… – she stammered as they parked the car on the parking of a supermarket. – How about sushi? – She changed the subject.

– Whatever you want, beautiful…
Tom took her hand in his and lifted it, then angled his head toward the hand and kissed gently. The man looked at her. She smiled, diving deeply in his arctic blue eyes. Their lips met, and they kissed long on the parking lot. His lips were soft, very, very kissable.

– We should get going – Maya whispered, smoothly moving away from the man’s face.

– Why? – He asked, still holding her in his arms.

– People are starting…

– So what? They’re jealous. Good.

– Let’s go! – The girl chuckled, getting off the car.

One hour later, they were back on the road. Tom held Maya’s hand as they drove nodding and acquiescing to her cheerful chattering.

– So… Mmm… – Tom grunted, interrupting the story.

– Yes? – She looked at him, smiling.

– Does anyone know that you are here? – He asked casually.

“Oh, that’s an interesting question. What if I tell you that everybody? What if I tell you that… nobody?” whispered the voice in her head. Corners of Maya’s lips dropped.

To be continued