So I can tell myself rationally that talking to Linus in the same room and everything will be fine. No worries. What’s the problem? A conversation. What could be dangerous about a conversation?
But my stupid lizard brain is all, like, “Red alert! Danger! Run away! Panic! Panic!” And it’s pretty loud and convincing. And my body tends to listen to it, not to me. So that’s the bummer.
Every muscle in my body is taut. My eyes are flicking around in fear. If you saw me now you’d think there was a dragon in the room. My lizard brain is in overdrive. And even though I’m telling myself frantically to ignore the stupid lizard brain, it’s kind of hard when you have a prehistoric reptile banging away inside your head, yelling “Run!”
“This is Linus.” Frank’s voice breaks into my thoughts. “I’ll leave you two together.”
And before I can escape, there he is, at the door. Same brown hair, same easy smile. I feel kind of unreal. All I can hear is my own brain saying Don’t run, don’t run, don’t run.
“Hi,” he says.
“Hi,” I manage to reply.
The thought of facing him or looking at him is impossible, so I turn away. Right away. Staring into the corner.
“Are you OK?” Linus takes a few steps into the room and pauses.
“You don’t look that fine,” he ventures.
I pause, trying to think of an explanation that doesn’t involve the words weird or nutty. “Sometimes I get too much adrenaline in my body,” I say at last. “It’s just, like, a thing. I breathe too fast, stuff like that.”
“Oh, OK.” I sense that he nods, although obviously, I can’t look at him, so I can’t be sure.
Simply sitting here and not running away feels like riding a rodeo. It’s taking a major effort. My hands are twisting themselves up in knots. I have an aching desire to grab my T-shirt and start shredding it to bits, only I have vowed to Dr. Sarah that I will stop shredding my clothes. So I will not shred my top. Even though it would make me feel a ton better; even though my fingers are dying to find a place of safety.
“They should teach us this stuff in biology lessons,” says Linus. “This is way more interesting than the life cycle of the amoeba. Can I sit down?” he adds awkwardly.
He perches on the edge of the sofa and, I can’t help it, I edge away.
“Is this to do with everything that…happened?”
“A bit.” I nod. “So you know about that.”
“I just heard stuff. You know. Everyone was talking about it.”
A sick feeling rises up inside me. How many times has Dr. Sarah said to me, “Audrey, everyone is not talking about you”? Well, she’s wrong.
“Freya Hill’s gone to my cousin’s school,” he continues. “I don’t know what happened to Izzy Lawton or Tasha Collins.”
I recoil at the names.
“I don’t really want to talk about it.”
“Oh. OK. Fair enough.” He hesitates, then says, “So, you wear dark glasses a lot.”
There’s a silence which I can sense he’s waiting for me to fill.
And actually, why not tell him? If I don’t, Frank probably will.
“I find eye contact hard,” I admit. “Even with my family. It’s too…I dunno. Too much.”
“OK.” He digests this for a moment. “Can you do anything contact? Do you email?”
“No.” I swallow down a wince. “I don’t do email at the moment.”
“But you write notes.”
“Yes. I write notes.”
There’s quiet for a moment; then a piece of paper arrives by my side, on the sofa. On it is written one word:
I smile at it, and reach for a pen.
I pass it back along the sofa. The next minute it appears again, and we’re into a backwards and forwards conversation, all on paper.
Is this easier than talking?
Sorry I mentioned your dark glasses. Sore point.
I remember your eyes from before.
I came round once to see Frank. I noticed your eyes then. They’re blue, right?
I can’t believe he registered the colour of my eyes.
Yes. Well remembered.
I’m sorry you have to go through all this.
It won’t be forever. You’ll be in the dark for as long as it takes and then you’ll come out.
I stare at what he’s written, a bit taken aback. He sounds so confident.