“Just say it,” you silently remind yourself. You know you’ll regret it if you don’t.

“Can I get a blueberry scone, too?” you ask. So simple. A scone to go with your large oat milk latte. The sort of thing anyone can do, even you.

The world does not explode when you ask for a scone. Your heart is still beating faster than it should, but the barista tells you the total and you pay with a card and leave a good tip and nothing bad happens.

And then you must wait for your coffee. Waiting is its own form of torture. Where to stand? Why are you always in the way, even when you feel invisible? Will you sit with your coffee, or will you take it to go?

You aren’t sure why you bother with that last question, because of course, you will take it to go. You will eat the scone in your car and get crumbs on the seats and in your lap because there are too many pairs of eyes to stare at you in here.

Besides, the elaborate latte set you back, and now you are late. Five minutes late, to be exact. And that was with your carefully planned five-minute buffer. At home it takes you twenty minutes to make coffee, sure, but making coffee is the raison d’etre of this business. It shouldn’t take them ten minutes. It wasn’t even crowded.

Why the coffee today? Why not make it at home like you do every other day, in your French press that you still barely know how to use? The French press coffee is grainy and tastes like mud, yes, but at least it is familiar.

You get in your car and ease out of the parallel parking spot. Oh yes, you overcame a few fears before you even made it in to order the coffee and the scone. You pulled onto a street you’re unfamiliar with and you parallel parked your car, like some kind of chic city-dweller. It took a few tries. It always does. You were sweating and cursing by the time you finished, but you did it. You put a quarter in the meter and hoped that the allotted thirty minutes was sufficient. You live in constant fear of a towed car.

Among other things.

Now, you get stuck at the end of the street trying to make a left turn, and you are even later than before. It isn’t as though you must clock in; no one is monitoring your arrival. Still, you have disrupted your routine so much already. It is getting to be a bit much.

You shouldn’t try to seize the day like this. You don’t have it in you.

But then again, that’s why you’re trying, right? Because you’re getting out of your comfort zone. Living in the moment, just like he told you to.

If it hadn’t been him, it would have been someone else. You know that. Somehow, though, when he said it, it was like the world opened. To swallow you or invite you in, you aren’t sure.

Finally, you make the left turn, and you are on your way to work, with your scone and your expensive, intricate coffee. Late, but on your way. Nothing special or spontaneous about work. Work always makes you anxious, but the regular kind. The kind of anxiety that’s so familiar, you feel a hole in your chest when it’s absent. And then you’re sure you’re forgetting something, and your overdrive anxiety kicks in. The regular kind of anxious is so much better.

Perhaps today you will do something bold, like smile at your coworker, or raise your hand in a meeting.

You can’t remember if it was always like this. If every tiny decision required enormous brainpower. If basic social cues sent you spiraling. You have thought about this time and time again, and the only conclusion you are willing to accept is that you have always been this way. The alternative is that something happened to make you this way, and if something happened, that means it could have been prevented.

There are too many rabbit holes to fall into with this line of thinking, and you have enough holes to dig out of already.

Take a deep breath, why don’t you. Try to remember what he said. Do you remember what he said?

You tiptoe into cold water, don’t you? Don’t you know that diving in is the only way to not freeze?

He didn’t mean for it to sound condescending. He never did. And you know that, which is why you never tell anyone the things he said. You keep them to yourself, repeat them like mantras. He is not here to say them.

Why did you go to the coffee shop today, when you knew it would make you nervous and late? Maybe it was because yesterday you stood in front of your closet for ten minutes deciding between a blue shirt and a slightly darker blue shirt. Or maybe it was because last week you didn’t go on a walk because you couldn’t pick a route.

Or maybe it was because of those things and a lot of other similar things, and you reached a point where you couldn’t stand yourself anymore. Because you woke up this morning with a creeping sense of dread that you will never do anything worth mentioning.

You pull into the parking lot, and wish you had waited to eat the scone, because it crumbled while you ate in the car and the remaining half is a mess of crumbs. You dust them off and balance your coffee cup on the top of your car while you get your jacket and your bag from the passenger seat. The coffee is already cooling down and you wish, not for the first time, that you had remembered your reusable mug. You try not to think about this cup going to the landfill, the last item on the tippy top of a trash mountain that will certainly topple as soon as this cup arrives. The town and the nearby river will fill with trash and it will be all your fault.

No. Stop thinking about that.

You go into the office and wave to the receptionist, who does not acknowledge you. You dial back the forced smile and slink to your desk. This is your space, but your chest tightens because you know it is about to be invaded. You open your email and prepare for the onslaught.

But today, there is only one email, and it is a simple reply: Great, thank you.

And it sounds ridiculous, but after the coffee and the scone and the parallel parking, this is what you needed. A quiet moment. An opening.

If you had more emails today, you wouldn’t have done what you do next. Because instead of putting your head down and answering hostile emails, you open a new, private browser window, and you search for flights. You don’t know why. You are not planning a trip. You don’t even like to travel. But the absence of anyone to answer has created this sudden urge to go somewhere, be someone different. Like he did, all those years ago.

Maybe you could join him. Maybe he still remembers.

Do you buy the tickets? Or do you only browse, imagine what could be, and with a sigh, close the tab in fifteen minutes?

That’s for you to decide. 

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Anna Irwin
19:08 Aug 07, 2020

I loved the sense of a possible adventure at the end and the characters struggle to truly live. The mysterious encourager only mentioned a few times is a cool touch as well. My favorite line was, "Somehow, though, when he said it, it was like the world opened. To swallow you or invite you in, you aren’t sure." The uncertainty battling the possibility was amazing! You are such a great writer!


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D. Holmes
18:42 Aug 07, 2020

I have never related to a piece more. "The world does not explode when you ask for a scone," where to stand, the five minute buffer - it's like you were in my head.


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Jessalyn Inman
15:39 Jul 23, 2020

This is a great depiction of what it's like living with an anxiety disorder.


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Meg L
12:33 Jun 27, 2020

I enjoyed reading this! Really captures the overthinking that comes with anxiety.


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Batool Hussain
11:15 Jun 25, 2020

Hello! Good story:) I'll be really grateful if you check out my recent story 'You and the train.' Thanks.


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