But I still can’t bring myself to call him. So instead I text.
Hi, Linus. This is Audrey here. Frank’s sister. I still need to do my documentary and you said you would be interviewed for it. Is that still OK? Could we meet? Thanks, Audrey.
And I’m expecting no reply, or at least a long wait, but the phone buzzes straight away and there’s his response:
I hadn’t thought about that. When? It’s Saturday evening, which means we’ve got all day tomorrow.
Tomorrow? Do you want to come round here? 11 a.m.?
I press Send, and this time there’s a bit of a wait before he replies:
No, let’s meet at Starbucks.
A jolt of panic goes through me like white fire. Starbucks? Is he nuts? Then a second text comes through:
You have to go there anyway, right? Isn’t that your project?
My fingers are trembling. My skin feels hot. I’m breathing in for four counts and out for seven and trying to channel Dr. Sarah. How would she advise me? What would she say?
But already I know what she’d say. Because she’s said it. I can hear her voice in my head, right now:
It’s time for some bigger steps.
You need to push yourself, Audrey.
You won’t know till you try.
I believe you can cope with it.
I stare at the phone till the numbers blur in front of my eyes, then type the text before I can change my mind.
OK. See you there.
I know what it’s like to be an old person now.
OK, I don’t know what it’s like to have wrinkly skin and white hair. But I do know what it’s like to walk down the road at a slow, uncertain pace, wincing at the passing of people, and flinching when horns beep and feeling like everything is just too fast.
Mum and Dad have taken Felix out for the day to some garden show, and at the last minute they took Frank too to “broaden his horizons.” So they have no idea I’m doing this. I couldn’t face the whole big deal of telling them and Mum fussing and all that palaver. So I waited till they left, got my key, got my money and the camera, and just left the house.
Which I haven’t done for…
I don’t know. So long.
We live about twenty minutes’ walk from Starbucks, if you’re striding. I’m not striding. But I’m not stopping either. I’m going. Even though my lizard brain is poised to curl up in fright, I’m managing to put one foot in front of the other. Left, right. Left, right.
My dark glasses are on, my hands are jammed in the pockets of my hoodie, and I’ve pulled the hood up for extra protection. I haven’t raised my gaze from the pavement but that’s OK. Most people walk along in their own worlds anyway.
As I reach the town centre the crowds become denser and the shop fronts are bright and noisy and with every step I have a stronger desire to run, but I don’t. I push on. It’s like climbing a mountain, I tell myself. Your body doesn’t want to do it, but you make it.
And then, at last, I’ve made it to Starbucks. As I approach the familiar façade I feel kind of exhausted, but I’m giddy too. I’m here. I’m here!
I push the door open and there’s Linus, sitting at a table near the entrance. He’s wearing jeans and a grey T-shirt and he looks hot, I notice before I can stop myself. Not that this is a date.
I mean, obviously it’s not a date. But even so—
Midsentence Stop. Whatever. You know what I mean.
Linus’s face brightens as he sees me, and he leaps up from the table.
“You made it!”
“I didn’t think you would.”
“I didn’t think so either,” I admit.
“But you did! You’re cured!”
His enthusiasm is so infectious I grin madly back and we sort of do a mini-dance, arms waving up and down.
“Shall we get some coffee?”
“Yes!” I say, in my new confident, everything’s-fine way. “Great!”
As we join the queue I feel kind of wired. The music on the sound system is too loud and the conversations around me are hitting my eardrums with a force that makes me wince, but I’m going with it instead of resisting. Like you do at a rock concert, when your nerves get taken over by the force of the noise and you just have to surrender. (And yes, I appreciate most people would not equate low-level Starbucks chatter to a rock concert. All I will say is: Try living inside my brain for a bit.)
I can feel my heart pumping, but whether it’s because of the noise or the people or because I’m with a hot-looking boy, I don’t know. I give my order (caramel Frappuccino) and the surly girl behind the counter says, “Name?”