At the counter, someone’s complaining about a cold coffee, and I find myself tuning in to the only side of the argument that I can hear.
“Complained three times— Don’t want a free coffee—Not good enough! Just not good enough!”
The angry voice is like a chisel in my brain. It’s making me flinch and close my eyes and want to flee. I’m starting to panic. My chest is rising and falling. I can’t stay. I can’t do this. Dr. Sarah’s wrong. I’m never going to get better. Look, I can’t even sit in Starbucks. I’m a total failure.
And now darker thoughts are circling my head, dragging me down. I should just hide away. I shouldn’t even exist. What’s the point of me, anyway?
“Audrey?” Linus waves a hand in front of my face, which makes me flinch even more. “Audrey?”
“I’m sorry,” I gulp, and push my chair back. I have to escape.
“What?” Linus stares at me, bewildered.
“I can’t stay.”
“It’s just…too loud. Too much.” I put my hands over my ears. “Sorry. I’m so sorry…”
I’m already at the door. I push it open and feel some small relief as I make it outside. But I’m not safe. I’m not home.
“But you were fine.” Linus has followed me out. He sounds almost angry. “You were fine just now! We were chatting and we were laughing…”
“So what happened?”
“Nothing,” I say desperately. “I don’t know. It makes no sense.”
“So, just tell yourself to snap out of it. You know, mind over matter.”
“I’ve tried!” Angry tears rise in my eyes. “Don’t you think I’ve tried snapping out of it?”
My head is a whirling mass of distress signals. I have to go. Now. I never hail taxis, ever, but right now I don’t even think twice. I stick my hand out and a black cab comes trundling by. Tears are filling my eyes as I get in—not that anyone can see them.
“Sorry,” I say to Linus, my voice a little thick. “I really am. So. We should forget the film and everything. So. I won’t see you, I guess. Bye. Sorry. Sorry.”
At home I lie in my bed, totally still, totally silent, with the curtains drawn and earplugs in. For about three hours. I don’t move a muscle. Sometimes I feel as if I’m a phone, and this is the only way I can recharge. Dr. Sarah says my body is on an adrenaline roller coaster, and that’s why I lurch from totally wired to totally fatigued, with nothing in between.
At last, feeling wobbly, I head downstairs for something to eat. I write a text to Dr. Sarah:
I went to Starbucks but I had a meltdown,
and send it off. The dark, ill thoughts have gone, but they’ve left me feeling weak and jittery.
I drift into the kitchen, and wince as I pass my reflection in the mirror. I look pale and kind of…I don’t know. Shrunken. It’s like the flu. It attacks you and your whole body takes the hit. I’m just considering whether to make a Nutella sandwich or a cheese one when I hear a rattling sound from the hall, and something dropping on the mat, and I jump a mile.
For a moment there’s silence. I’ve tensed up all over like an animal in a trap, but I tell myself firmly, I am safe, I am safe, I am safe, and my heart rate slowly drops, and at last I wander out to see what it is.
It’s a note, on the doormat—a piece of lined paper torn out of a notebook with Audrey written in Linus’s handwriting. I open it to see:
Are you OK? I texted but you didn’t reply. Frank didn’t reply either. I didn’t want to ring the doorbell and shock you.
I haven’t even looked at my phone since I texted Dr. Sarah. And Frank’s at the garden show, in the countryside. He probably hasn’t got any signal. I imagine Frank, grimly tramping round some field, and raise a faint smile. He’ll be in such a bad mood.
Through the ripply glass of the front door I suddenly notice a kind of shadowy movement, and my heart catches. Oh God. Is that Linus, there? Is he waiting? For what?
I reach for a pen and think for a moment.
I’m fine, thank you, sorry I freaked out.
I push it back through the letter box. It’s a bit difficult because there’s a spring, but I manage it. A moment later, it reappears.
You looked really bad. I was worried.
I stare at his words, my heart falling like a stone. Really bad. I looked really bad. I ruin everything.
Somehow I can’t find anything to put except that one word, so I write it again.
And I post the letter back through the letter box. Almost at once the page is pushed back with his reply: