One Breath - Chapter Three
I sit at my rickety table in the Psychology classroom. I don’t want to present. I don’t like presenting. Presenting makes my heart do that thing where it flies out of my chest and goes for a little trip down Anxiety lane.
I don’t like that lane.
Presenting makes me feel like my brain is broken. I know it’s not broken, but when I stand up everything freezes and all I can feel is the beating of my heart and the quickening of my breathing.
I hope I don’t have to present today.
The names for presentation get listed off, one by one going down the roll, and thankfully my name doesn’t get called out. I bite my lip as I focus, trying to remember what names were actually called out; I was too focused on whether or not my name was called out to work out whose names were read out.
As I sort through my brain, picking it apart, I notice how stuffy the classroom is. It’s a bit suffocating, the heat making me feel like pressure is falling onto my skin and squeezing me into a smaller being.
Smaller than usual.
I raise my hand, and when the teacher calls on me I request permission to exit the room and go to the bathroom. The teacher nods, their brows furrowing in slight concern; they always have this expression whenever I look slightly out of it. Mother made the school pay extra attention to me.
Mother doesn’t think I’m ok.
I leave the room, making my way to the communal bathrooms. When I reach the door, it opens before I can touch it and Riley steps out.
I flush with embarrassment, but for what I’ve no idea. I think I’m just constantly embarrassed around them; though there’s a lot of things for me to constantly be embarrassed about – my demeanour, my looks, my brain, the list goes on.
“Parker, how’re you?” Riley beams, their smile more than a mere ghost upon their lips. Their eyes, surrounded by thick, dark lashes are fixated on my face, maintaining steady contact with my own eyes.
“I’m, um, good,” I mumble in reply. “How’re you, Riley?”
I silently curse myself for my severe inability to actually speak. What a waste of oxygen I am. Honestly, I’d be better off mute.
“Quite well, better after seeing you!” They respond in a cheery tone. This elicits a chuckle to escape my mouth and I roll my eyes at them, unable to stop myself.
“Yeah, sure,” I squeak, my cheeks now flush with a red tint; Riley makes me blush constantly. They enjoy teasing me, for what reason I’ve no idea. It’s not as if any of their comments directed towards me are serious.
Then again, they only talk like this when we’re alone.
Maybe they don’t want people to judge them for talking to me, an absolute loser.
I don’t blame them.
Riley laughs heartily, the grin on their face lighting up its surrounding features. Their smile, God, if I could draw for s–t I would illustrate it over and over again, as it’s one of the only things I can’t ever get out of my head. If I could sketch their smile, I would pencil it over and over again until I came as close as possible to recreating that perfecting in paper format, then I would cover my bedroom walls in images of that smile.
That smile, I need that smile.
Riley’s eyes flick up and down, either evaluating my choice of clothing or giving me a once over. Then, meeting my eyes, they wink at me and walk past me towards the class they’re missing by conversing with me.
What was I doing at the bathroom?
Right, I was just going to try and relax until my headache went away.
No use in trying to relax after that conversation.
I turn slightly and watch as Riley continues down the hall, their steps full of cheerful confidence, as if they are assured in their ability to be a kind person, and not necessarily caring about whether people like that or not.
I both envy them and want them to be mine. If I were a fraction of the person they are, God, I would probably be someone that my Mother enjoyed the company of.
Right, time to rid myself of this G—–n headache.
Once my headache has departed my body I exit the bathroom and make my way back to the psychology classroom. Only a third of the 21 5-minute presentations that were listed for today have occurred, meaning there’s still a lot of time left in class.
Guess it’s time for me to have one continuous ‘moment’, get lost in my thoughts and imagine a life in which I live how I always wanted to.
The bell rings, snapping me out of my trance, and everyone begins to slowly exit the classroom. Of course they all have already packed up their books; so eager to depart the room that they’ve no better things to do than to prepare to leave.
I slowly gather my things, tucking them under my right arm as to ensure they don’t fall out of my arms when I embark on the perilous challenge of the hallways after class.
Or that they don’t get smacked out of my arms.
I safely reach my locker, entering the code and opening the door. I put my laptop, books and drink bottle into the small containment unit and give the area a small sweep with my eyes. I need to make sure everything is in place, that nothing has moved and all of my items are safe. I do this every time I’m at my locker, nothing new, but my friends seem to think it’s both a bit weird and also shows slight paranoia.
“Boo,” Jordan says, smacking their hands onto my shoulders making me jump in fright. They always greet me in a way that makes me jump – it’s not that they’re a scary human, they just like to surprise me to create a reaction aside from my usual deadpan, bored expression.
If I really consider it, it’s slightly cruel of them to do this everyday. Everyday, that is, aside from when I go and actively seek them out. But I don’t usually do that. It’s a lot of effort.
“Lunch?” Jordan asks me, giving my locker a once-over. I shake my head and grab a book out of my locker, signalling my need to go and read for this lunchtime, needing some chill time. Needing some me time.
Jordan nods and a small smile arises. They pull a book out from inside their bag – which they carry everywhere – and offer their arm for me to take as they lead us towards the sacred kingdom of knowledge and different realms; the Library.