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Everyone has that one person in their life who claims to be claustrophobic then makes a big deal out of it when it’s time to ride the bus and demands to sit by the window.

Yes, we all know and tolerate them. I won’t go into detail about how much this action aggravates me, especially as a person whose friend is factually claustrophobic.

She isn’t lying.

I’ve seen it firsthand.

I met Alexis Harlen in the elevator at the apartment complex near Vanderbilt. We were both carrying immense amounts of luggage, probably nearing the maximum weight clearance in the outdated machinery.

We were both going to the seventh floor, and some part of me knew now was the time to speak to her. We were going to be living on the same level of the complex and going to the same college if the pamphlet tucked in her backpack was any indication. It was going to be impossible not to ever speak to her. Better to make fast friends now than struggle to make attachments later.

Naturally, I was nervous, like any sensible, socially-awkward person would be. Is she giving me weird looks? Does her breathing sound funny? Is she okay? I’m sure she’s fine. Don’t miss your chance. Now speak. Go ahead, make conversation. Introduce yourself. SAY SOMETHING! 

I cleared my throat experimentally, extending my only free hand in a friendly gesture. “Hey, I’m Thomas. I-”

The elevator took this uncomfortable moment as its chance to shut down. The upward momentum halted and the doors remained firmly closed. The fluorescent light fixture flickered and shut off. Thank you, God, for this divine punishment/intervention. Only time will tell which it is.

I flicked on my iPhone flashlight, illuminating our predicament in skeletal luminescence. Ghostly shadows outlined Alexis’s face, revealing her glassy eyes, taped wide open in freight.

Shallow breaths escaped her lips, and she clawed at her backpack straps in an anxious movement to remove the bag.

“Ohmygosh, are you okay?” Her head gave the tiniest shake from side to side as I freed her from the backpacks clutches. “Do I need to call an ambulance?”

Her head shook more violently than before, a vigorous no. I nodded in understanding but dialed the fire department. Isn’t that who you call in this situation? 

The operator picked up instantly and sorted me out. When I finally hung up, I nearly tucked my cell back in my pocket, only just remembering that was our only source of light. “Good news,” I said with a reassuring smile. “The fire department is on their way to us as we speak. We should be outta here in no time.”

The girl’s chin bobbed up and down, her slim hands fisted in her sweatshirt. “I’m Alexis. Is it cold in here to you?” Alexis’s voice was as thin as her petite figure.

I frowned, tilting my head in confusion. “No. Actually kinda on the warm side…”

She swallowed, tugging at the neckline of her top. Her tone grew even more shrill. “Oh. You said you were Thomas, right?” Alexis unzipped her backpack with shaking hands. “Do you think you could help me find my inhaler? I don’t like small spaces. At all.”

“Oh-okay.” I felt startled by her abrupt omission. I gently pushed her trembling fingers aside and calmly searched for the metal contraption. “Where do you normally keep it?”

Alexis was clambering onto the floor, where she sat with her eyes closed. “I don’t need it very often, so it’s probably shoved to the bottom.”

“Gotcha.” After a few more agonizing moments of rifling through a stranger’s belongings, I conjured the MIA inhaler, handing it to her.

Alexis breathed in the oxygen greedily, taking long, calming draws of the air. When she pulled away, her breathing was closer to normal but her hands still shook. She managed to smile gratefully in my direction. “Thanks. Elevators make me really,” she paused, mulling over the correct phrasing, “nervous. Yeah, nervous.”

I nodded mutely, as was my habit.

Alexis took another long draw from the inhaler. “Thomas-I know this sounds strange-but could you tell me a story?”

I smiled, understanding perfectly. “With no elevators?”

She returned my grin. “Or small spaces.”

I pretended to think about it. “Well, Alexis, I guess that could be arranged. But only this once.” I paused a moment, finding the right words for her. “Once upon a time,”

Alexis punctuated the corny statement with a groan.

I stifled laughter. “There was a prince with a beautiful palace and a sprawling kingdom covering much territory, but not many inhabited these lands because of a distinct lack of infrastructure.”

She giggled, “Of course. Where have the tax dollars been going?”

I delicately cleared my throat. “Excuse me, Alexis, sorry to bother you, but I’m telling a story here.”

She nodded seriously, but the corners of her lips quirked up.

“Anyway, Prince Rouhlly discovered that, without citizens or any other business to attend to, he had very little to do with his time. So he had his many servants teach him all sorts of hobbies and sports to fill his time, but none of it stuck. The prince grew steadily unhappier, until one day he decided to go on a quest!” I spoke dramatically. “Prince Rouhlly traveled near and far to find something to do with his time, feeling extremely lonely and empty all the way. One day, he came across another prince from foreign lands. This prince was on a quest of his own, to kiss a random lady in the forest who was comatose to revive her from a curse. His life is the subject of another little-known tale, you might have heard of it once or twice.

“Prince Rouhlly was struck by an idea! He needed a companion on his journeys and long days spent in the palace. He was in desperate need of a good friend.” I swallowed, feeling the gravity of my words even if Alexis never would. I could feel her eyes on me, begging me to tell the story, spin the yarn into something beautiful.

“What he’d been missing all his life had been waiting for him, he just never known what was gone.”

We were quiet for a long time before Alexis piped up. “I think you made a mistake there. It didn’t end in “happily ever after”, and is breaking fairy tale protocol.”

I smiled, watching the shadows dance on the walls every time I breathed. “Well, Prince Rouhlly’s story doesn’t end there. He just hasn’t lived long enough to finish his story.”

Alexis inspected her hands, now still. Her voice was so small and sincere. “Thanks, Thomas. I needed that.”

“Anytime, okay? We do live on the same floor, after all.”

When I glanced up, she was staring at me intently. “Yeah, I think we’ll be having plenty of adventures together.”

That spread a warm, fuzzy feeling through my chest, leaving me grinning like an idiot. “I’d like that a lot.”

September 05, 2020 19:48

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1 comment

Ariadne .
22:54 Sep 14, 2020

Aww, this story is too cute! I love all the characters. The last line was the perfect cherry on top. Great work! Keep writing. Please check out my story! Any likes/reviews/comments will be much appreciated. Thanks! :)


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