Which of course Dr. Sarah never has said. And never will.
“The truth is, Audrey,” Dr. Sarah is saying, “that yes, people will probably talk about you for a fraction of the time. I’m sure my patients talk about me, and I’m sure it’s not always complimentary. But they’ll get bored and move on. Can you believe that?”
“No,” I say honestly, and Dr. Sarah nods.
“The more you engage with the outside world, the more you’ll be able to turn down the volume on those worries. You’ll see that they’re unfounded. You’ll see that the world is a very busy and varied place and most people have the attention span of a gnat. They’ve already forgotten what happened. They don’t think about it. There will have been five more sensations since your incident. Won’t there?”
I shrug reluctantly.
“But it’s hard for you to believe that, trapped in your own little world. And for that reason, I’d like you to start making visits out of the house.”
“What?” My chin jerks up in horror. “Where?”
“To your local high street?”
“No. I can’t.”
My chest has started to rise and fall at the very idea, but Dr. Sarah ignores it.
“We’ve talked about exposure therapy. You can start with a tiny visit. A minute or two. But you need to gradually expose yourself to the world, Audrey. Or the danger is, you really will become trapped.”
“But…” I swallow, unable to talk properly. “But…”
There are black dots in front of my eyes. Dr. Sarah’s room was always a safe space, but now I feel as though she’s thrusting me into a pit of fire.
“Those girls might be anywhere,” says Mum, protectively grabbing my hand. “What if she bumps into one of them? Two of them are still at school in the area, you know. I mean, it’s outrageous. They should have been sent away. And when I say away, I mean away.”
“I know it’s difficult.” Dr. Sarah is focused solely on me. “I’m not suggesting you go out alone. But I think it’s time, Audrey. I think you can do it. Call it Project Starbucks.”
Starbucks? Is she kidding?
Tears have started to my eyes. My blood is pulsing in panic. I can’t go to Starbucks. I can’t.
“You’re a brave, strong girl, Audrey,” says Dr. Sarah, as though reading my mind, and she passes me a tissue. “You need to start pushing yourself. Yes you can.”
No I can’t.
The next day I spend twelve solid hours in bed. Just the thought of Starbucks has sent me slithering down a tunnel of fear, to the black, dark place. Even the air seems abrasive. Every noise makes me flinch. I can’t open my eyes.
Mum brings me soup and sits on my bed and strokes my hand.
“It’s too soon,” she says. “Too soon. These doctors get carried away. You’ll get there in your own time.”
My own time, I think after she’s gone. What’s that? What’s Audrey time? Right now it feels like a slow-motion pendulum. It’s lurching forwards and back, forwards and back, but the clock’s not ticking round. I’m not getting anywhere.
And then three days have passed and the darkness has lifted and I’m out of bed, having an argument with Frank.
“Those were my Shreddies. I always eat Shreddies. You know that.”
“No you don’t,” I say, to be annoying. “Sometimes you eat pancakes.”
Frank looks like he might spontaneously combust.
“I eat pancakes when Mum makes pancakes. When she doesn’t, I eat Shreddies. Every morning for the last five years. Ten years. And you just go and finish the packet.”
“Muesli?” He looks so aghast at the idea, I want to giggle. “Like raisins and shit?”
“You don’t even like Shreddies,” he says accusingly. “Do you? You only took them to wind me up.”
“They’re OK.” I shrug. “Not as good as muesli.”
“I give up.” Frank rests his head on his hands. “You’re just trying to ruin my life.” He shoots me a dark look. “I preferred you lying in bed.”
“Well, I preferred you plugged into a computer,” I shoot back. “You were much less of a pain when we never saw you.”
“Frank!” As Mum bursts into the kitchen, holding Felix on one hip, she looks shocked at the sight of him, collapsed on the table. “Sweetheart. Are you OK?”
“Shreddies!” Felix yells as soon as he sees my bowl. “I want Shreddies! Please,” he adds sweetly as he slithers down from Mum. “Please may I.”