Reda hunched in her chair in the bright, cheery restaurant, her mouth dry, clenching her fists. A bear might as well have been lumbering towards her, the way her chest flip-flopped with nerves. She had no excuse.
Her friends chattered about movies and work while her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. Was it the music? The pop rock had a syncopated beat and a predictable riot of chords. It shouldn’t have contributed to the fluttering, the aching, the terror underneath her breasts. Was it something stupid like forks clinking on plates?
“You okay?” Seth shot her a sideways smile, the kind that brushed the surface of conversation but never dipped below. He meant well.
“Yeah, yeah,” Reda said, and returned the smile. But someone had noticed. She hadn’t faked it well enough. Her fingers betrayed her with tremors, echoing the manic quaking of her heart, for which she had no excuse. The bear—that’s how she thought of it, giving it some physical form so she could make sense of the senseless fear—shambled closer, and closer. She responded like thunder to lightning; the closer it got, the louder she shook and the more her placid face cracked. What was it? What was it? Why was she like this?
There. Something whined in the background, a high-pitched squeal. The restaurant’s air conditioner. Something stupid again.
She had no excuse.
“Hey,” Seth said. “What do you all say to eating outside? It’s a nice day.”
“Yeah,” Astrid said, on the other side of Reda. The rest of the group agreed, and all rose, shepherding her like a river’s current would guide a stick. The high-pitched droning stopped, and Reda swallowed and gasped for breath, and swayed against one of the outside tables.
“This seems like a good spot,” Seth said with another sideways smile. He leaned towards her and whispered, “I get it. For me, it’s riding in cars.”
She swallowed and braced herself against the table. She’d misjudged him. That smile seemed so thin, but it hid a cracked interior.
Her friends plopped down, and chatted more about movies, and work. Reda listened, and smiled, and even chipped in a little word here and there.
The bear had disappeared.
Emmie Christie’s work tends to hover around the topics of feminism, mental health, cats, and the speculative such as unicorns and affordable healthcare. She has been published in Intrinsick Magazine and Allegory Magazine and she graduated from the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2013. She also enjoys narrating audiobooks for Audible. You can find her at www.emmiechristie.com.