Amaya didn’t like matinees, but they were cheap, and money was tight since her parents’ divorce and her mom’s decision to move back to the small city of her childhood in Western Washington, in the shadow of Mt. Rainier. Amaya didn’t like it. She missed her besties, martial arts classes, the California sun, everything about her old life. She’d lost so much. At seventeen, she should be getting ready for college, but all she wanted, as she sat in the dark movie theater, was a sense of home. All summer long, this old movie theater welcomed her in and wrapped her up in the smell of popcorn and licorice. Something about this place just felt right.
Amaya leaned back into the surprisingly comfortable red vinyl seat and put a hand on her necklace. Three intertwined ovals were raised above the surface of the front, while the back held a triangle of three stars on one side and a shooting star on the other. Her maternal grandfather had made it, and her maternal grandmother had blessed it. It linked her to them, to belonging somewhere. Her chest ached, thinking about their sudden deaths, just months before her parents’ divorce.
“Popcorn?” Amaya’s new friend Jessi held out the bucket, bringing Amaya back to the moment.
Amaya nodded and took a handful. She didn’t eat any, but the strong, buttery smell held her thoughts at bay.
On the other side of Jessi, Natalie offered up their shared soda.
Amaya smiled, but she shook her head. Jessi and Natalie were really sweet, probably the nicest, most normal friends she’d had in her life. They talked about boys, movies, romance novels, and school. And they were open about race and ethnicity, which Amaya appreciated. She’d heard racist remarks her whole life because of her burnt sienna skin, but Jessi and Natlie accepted her. They didn’t even care that she didn’t know what her ethnicity was exactly. Despite her many questions, her parents didn’t want her to know about her roots. It made no sense and drove her crazy. All her mom cared about was signing Amaya up for martial arts, survival skills, archery, and gymnastics. Amya’s old friends and private schools had also been vetted by her mom. Despite her mom’s reasoning for her paranoia, something always felt off, like her mom was just one step beyond the normal helicopter moms.
Jessi nudged her with the popcorn bucket again. At some point in her melancholy, Amaya had eaten her popcorn. She took another handful, inhaled the scent, and then forced her gaze up to the screen.
In the movie, a teen girl and a teen guy stood awkwardly at a bus stop. He was offering to take her out for coffee or ice cream or anything. Amaya wanted to fall into the silly romantic vibe of it, but she was struggling to let go of everything today. She glanced over at her friends, who were staring up at the screen in anticipation. Jessi and Natalie loved romance with the fervor of the uninitiated. They were so much fun that it had been easy to be drawn into light conversation and boy gossip with them, even reading romances and watching cheesy movies.
They had the whole theater to themselves, and the air conditioning had been set to freezing. Shivering in summer shorts with a thin, long-sleeve top, Amaya curled her legs to her chest and tried, again, to lose herself in the movie. She hadn’t seen it before, but she had checked out the book from the library.
The film jerked to a sudden stop right as the guy reached for the girl’s hand.
“Hey, we didn’t even get to the first awkward kiss,” Jessi groaned.
Then all the little lights along the aisles winked out, the comforting neon of the exit sign disappeared, and the movie screen went dark. The theater rumbled.
“Earthquake!” Amaya shouted, grabbing for her friends as she struggled to stand. The ground rolled, and she fell forward onto the next row of seats.
Jessi and Natalie screamed.
Amaya fought to right herself and settled for rolling sideways off the seats.
The earth had stopped moving, but Jessi kept screaming, and Natalie sounded as though she was crying.
“It’s okay,” Amaya said. “It stopped. Jessi, take deep breaths. We’re going to be okay.”
“Okay,” Jessi said in a ragged voice.
A beam of light pierced the darkness, followed by a calm, deep voice. “Everyone all right in here?”
“I think so,” Amaya said. “Can you lead us out?”
The flashlight beam swept over Jessi and Natalie and landed on Amaya. She self-consciously tugged at the frayed hem of her shirt. Then she reached out to Jessi. “C’mon, we’re getting out of here.”
“Okay,” Jessi whispered. She took Amaya’s hand and rose to her feet.
Natalie stood behind her and took Jessi’s other hand.
Amaya knew she should be prepared for anything, thanks to her mom’s training, but for now, holding hands felt better. At least they could anchor each other in the darkness.