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There's... a podium. And a microphone. And this little red carpet- it vanishes beneath that podium, and it leads all the way back to me. The edge of the carpet just brushes the tips of my bare feet. Where are my shoes?

Wait, where are my clothes? The expensive dress I picked out? I'm in my tattered old bedtime lingerie, and somehow I don't feel cold. Even in my bed, under several layers of covers, I feel cold. Always. Why don't I feel cold? And why am I-

Faces. Millions, millions, millions of faces. I'm standing in front of the podium even though I haven't taken a step, even though I've been standing frozen-

My greasy hair's weighing on my head, pulling on my scalp, and I know it hasn't been combed-

They can see me like I really am, they're judging me-

I know I should be panicking but it's as if I'm watching from behind a screen-

This woman isn't me, she isn't me-

I'm watching a movie, a movie in which a woman fresh out of bed is laughed off a stage by millions-

And then I'm shooting up, gasping, soaked in sweat. I swing around wildly and nearly fall off the bed- oh, my God, oh, my God.

I'm at home. Safe. In bed. In old, tattered lingerie. The chilly air washes over my bare shoulders and I shiver, yanking the blanket up over my shoulders as my head spins.

I shut my eyes. The light (must've fallen asleep rehearsing again) filters through my lids as a warm chestnut color. I take in a few deep breaths in an effort to calm my wildly beating heart.

My eyes flutter open- my palms are sweaty. I wipe them on the thin topmost blanket, brace myself, and swing my legs out of bed.

Stiffly I hurry to the dresser and yank on the first comfy pants I encounter- too-big sweats, with the tag still on. As I straighten, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror hung over the dresser and self-consciously try to run my fingers through my (you guessed it, greasy) hair. My face looks so pale and drawn. My nose looks too big. My eyebrows look too dark. My hair looks too greasy. The circles underscoring my eyes are too unattractive. The mole on the right side of my face is-

I tear my eyes away and stumble out of the room into the dark, narrow hallway, hanging onto the railing, before the circle of self-loathing can imprint itself too fully.

I hang a left and shuffle down the stairs, going through the house, turning on lights as I pass their switches. I make it into the kitchen without being attacked by any monsters (somehow I still expect it), pull up a stool, stand on it, reach for the highest cabinet, get out some tea bags, and one irritating, too-loud microwave beeping sound later, I'm sitting at the table with a mug of steaming-hot tea, staring listlessly into space as anxieties swirl around my stomach.

Tomorrow is... the speech. Today is, actually, I realize with a jolt... it must be after midnight. I don't even think I fell asleep before one.

The speech.

Somehow I doubt they'll let me go in my pajamas, with greasy hair, but...

God. The only other time I've been on a stage was in the fourth grade, giving a speech at... church, I think?

Yeah, I pretty much just stood there, gaping like a fish, until somebody pulled me off the stage. The pastor, I think.

Literally, that day, they put in a seven-year-old. And she read it perfectly! Not a hitch. Plus she had that pretty blond hair and those big blue eyes and that cute, squeaky voice. The adults forgot about the gaping-fish-brown-haired-girl that went a second earlier immediately.

Which was kind of a blessing, but that was church. I mean, in church you can't heckle. God'll damn you to hell or something, I don't know.

Speech in front of millions? I'm going to bet most of them aren't too worried about being damned to hell.

Absentmindedly I take a sip, wincing as the hot liquid scalds my throat. The speech is today, today, today, and all I have to show for it are a few grubby pages of notes.

Yolande's chirpy voice drifts into my head. "Remember, you're not allowed to plan out every second of this speech! Our campaign- don't you remember it? We just dove headfirst! Didn't plan a second of it! You've gotta do the same with this speech- rely on the emotions of the crowd as you detect them!"

It's been seven years since the campaign, but of course I remember. And that's the problem.

When I think about past me, I cringe, I want to say. When we- when I- jumped into that campaign, it was just luck that we ended up where we are now. Luck and expensive donors. I was young and stupid. We were young and stupid. It'll never, never work again.

I was twenty-three, then. I'm thirty now. Officially middle age.

When you're young, you don't plan. And that's the beauty of childhood. Teenagerhood. (I really don't think that's a word.)

You don't need to plan, 'cause others plan for you.

But middle-age? Heck, the only person planning for you is you.

I raise the mug to my lips and sip again. It's chilly and unappealing- I've let it sit too long, again.

I put it down on the coaster, on the pretense I'm going to take another sip. Yolande's going to come over at six. She'll clean it up. Meanwhile, I should-

No. I stand up too quick, gripping the tea- it sloshes over the edges. I walk carefully to the kitchen, pour out the tea, drop the teabag into the trashcan, put the mug in the sink. Depending on Yolande is not sustainable. It's something I did when I was young.

Like I said. Officially middle-age.

Yolande's not my caretaker. I need to make that clear.

I hurry back throughout the house, turning out lights this time. Normally I'd stay up longer- a lot longer- watching old reruns and old Netflix shows, but I need to go to bed. I need rest.

In bed, again, with my sweats folded back in the bottom dresser drawer, I splay my hands on the bed, then clench them into fists.

Today- later today, I'll make my speech. And I'll plan it. It's the only way I won't be led off the stage in disgrace.

Leaping headfirst won't bring me anything but trouble.

I've learned that.

February 08, 2021 14:36

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1 comment

14:40 Feb 08, 2021

howdy! so, i really, really don't think i like this story... it's kind of meandering, and it stayed with the prompt, but i feel like i should've done a little more straying- it'd make the story better, but i can't edit it now, so it's just gonna stay this way. *sad expression* but w h a t e v e r . thanks for reading this, by the way :D.


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