Written for the January Support Stacie Auction winning bidder missryss.
Idée Fixe [ee – dey feeks]
1. a fixed idea; an obsession
2. a usually delusional idea that dominates the whole mental life during a prolonged period (as in certain mental disorders) called also fixed idea
Claustrophobia [klaw – struh – foh – bee – uh]
an abnormal fear of being in enclosed or narrow spaces
Agoraphobia [ag – er – uh – foh – bee – uh ]
1. an abnormal fear of being in crowds, public places, or open areas, sometimes accompanied by anxiety attacks
2. an abnormal fear of being helpless in a situation from which escape may be difficult or embarrassing that is characterized initially often by panic or anticipatory anxiety and finally by avoidance of open or public places
It was too small. His office was everything wrong with therapy for my condition. The ten-by-ten foot room would not be so confining if it was empty. Instead, the doctor had filled it up with filing cabinets, a desk so large that I could not even work out how they had managed to get it into the room in the first place, two oversized armchairs that looked luxuriously comfortable but in reality were as hard as stone, pale blue blinds that darkened the room and made it appear even smaller, and frame after frame after frame of certificates and credentials that no one ever bothered to read covered the walls. Oh, and those damn plastic pot plants. The large plastic palm in the corner opposite the door, the vases of plastic tropical flowers on the filing cabinets that were more than overstuffed with the bright colored dust-collectors, and the wall-mounted pots that housed plastic creepers and vines of ivy. Then there was the clutter on his desk. The family photos, the collection of kindergarten-style hand-made macaroni pen holders, overflowing document trays, gum wrappers, empty take-away coffee cups …
This doctor needed to take a few lessons in "Dealing with Office Clutter and the Effect it has on Your Patients" before he tried to "fix" me. Did he even know the definition of Claustrophobia? Did he have any idea on how to treat Claustrophobics? It certainly did not involve trapping them in a tiny, cluttered office. He was just asking for me to launch into one of my uncontrollable panic attacks.
I found the sessions with him to be completely pointless. I knew where my Claustrophobia had stemmed from; that was not the problem. All he was doing was asking me meaningless questions that did nothing to help me overcome my phobia.
It was clear that he had not experienced a panic attack before. Or suffered from any kind of phobia. If he had, he would not ask me the questions he did. If he thought that I could think clearly enough to answer his questions in his broom-closet of an office, he was sorely mistaken. I was on the verge of a panic attack every time I stepped foot inside it, so focusing on my breathing tended to be my main priority.
The second that I got to step out of his office was always the best second of my life. The weight of my phobia lifted, and suddenly I could breathe again.
The waiting room had grown to become one of my favourite places. It was one of the few rooms indoors that I could handle entering; it was not too small, it was not too cluttered. It was simple but perfect. The uniform plastic chairs lining the white walls, the coffee tables containing neat, orderly stacks of magazines, and the pastel-colored paintings on the walls created a light, soothing atmosphere. The receptionist always had a vase of fresh flowers sitting atop her desk. There was the calming sound of soft classical music playing in the background.
It was perfect. And so was he.
He was always sitting there when I arrived. In the same plastic chair, by the same tidy coffee table, with the same perfect posture, and the same messy bronze hair …
He was why I even bothered with these appointments anymore. He had helped me in more ways than therapy ever could. The doctor thought that he was the one who had made progress when I begrudgingly informed him of a new obstacle I had overcome, but it was not true. It's all him. Everything.
Because the waiting room was his sanctuary too. It was the one place where we both felt like we could be ourselves. We both understood each other, how difficult life could be with our conditions. Most would think that our relationship would be an impossible one with our conflicting phobias, that we would struggle to find a balance or a middle ground.
It was a misjudgement that no one else understood. The waiting room was our middle ground and we had a lot more in common than anyone would think.
We did not just have difficult conditions. We had each other. We had support.
We had every Thursday at two-fifteen.
It was too dangerous. Too cluttered. There was so much that could happen to me in the doctor's office. I could get tangled up in the beaded curtain that hung in the door frame, or the vast number of framed certificates and credentials could fall off the wall and knock me out, or the weird glass statues could fall off the filing cabinets and smash everywhere … not to mention, if there was a fire and I had to try and escape through the windows, I could trip over the unconventional bean bag chairs and get caught up in the blinds.
The doctor's office was a death trap. She was constantly adding more clutter to it too. More safety hazards in the confined space. More opportunities for me to get trapped, or injured, or even suffer a long and painful death.
The place made me go into panic mode every time I stepped foot inside. My skin would get clammy, I would break out in a cold sweat, I would start hyperventilating, my heart would start racing, my limbs would get uncontrollably shaky … it was not a pleasant experience. I was not sure how the doctor planned to help me overcome my Agoraphobia in a place that terrified me so much that I could barely focus on my breathing, let alone what specifics of the situation freaked me out the most.
I found the appointments absolutely pointless. She didn't help me one bit. I could barely comprehend anything she said to me during the onset of my anxiety attacks, and the times where I was calm enough to try and absorb her words, it all sounded like high-pitched fairy gibberish. I gained more from sitting in the waiting room than I did in her office.
The waiting room. My personal heaven.
My brunette angel.
I remembered the first day she walked through the double glass doors, all flushed and harried and wind-swept. She had blown in like a tornado, her long brown curls flying around her face as she ran up to the reception desk all breathless and muttering apologies for her tardiness.
She had muttered curses under her breath as the receptionist informed her that the doctor was running behind, so she wasn't, in fact, late at all.
In a huff she had sat down opposite me, grumbling about the public transport and waste of time and other things that I couldn't quite make out.
In her flushed, unkempt state, she was the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes on.
She was perfect. Bella.
She became my sole reason for returning to the Office of Death each week. Without her, I would have given up on therapy altogether. She became my therapy. She helped me in ways no professional ever could.
And I would gladly keep paying the extortionate amount of money to someone who really didn't deserve it, just so long as I got to see her, talk to her, hear her voice, hold her hand...
She was my guiding light in the darkness of my phobia, the cure to my anxiety attacks. She made those few minutes in Waiting Room Heaven, before my hour of Death Trap Office hell, bearable.
Bella was the only one who understood just how difficult my life was. She didn't judge me or laugh at me when I confessed my fears. I found myself craving her understanding and calming presence in every aspect of my life.
I hated that our time together was so fleeting. Our Thursday sessions were not enough.
I wanted more.
Thursday January 7th, 2010
Today's date may not have meant much to most people. My friends were completely unaware of any significance it held for me. My doctor certainly didn't know that there was anything noteworthy about it. Even my cat was clueless, though I had done nothing but fill my quiet apartment with mindless chatter about it for the past week.
I wasn't even sure if he knew. I knew that it was likely that I was making more of it than I should have been, yet I couldn't help the small bubble of excitement in my chest that thought maybe, just maybe he was as ridiculously elated as I was.
It was six months today. Six months since I had first stumbled into the waiting room, late for my new scheduled appointment time; a new appointment time that had since become my reason for getting out of bed in the morning.
I looked at my watch. Eight forty-three. Five hours and thirty-two minutes until I would see Edward again. Five hours and thirty-two minutes until our twenty-fifth meeting. Five hours and thirty-two minutes that I had to fill with something attention-grabbing enough to distract me. The wait was surely going to kill me.
I was almost certain that I was dreaming. No, not dreaming. Having a nightmare. There was no way that I could be awake so unnecessarily early on such an important day.
The red numbers on my alarm clock glared fiercely back at me as I blinked groggily at them. Five-sixteen. It was five-sixteen in the morning. My alarm was not even due to sound until eight o'clock. What the hell was I doing awake at five-sixteen?
I groaned and rolled back over in bed, crushing my pillow over my face.
I counted sheep.
I could not get back to sleep. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not shut my brain off.
Five twenty-seven. Eight hours and forty-eight minutes.
I rolled onto my left side.
Five thirty-nine. Eight hours and thirty-six minutes.
I tossed to my right.
Five forty-two. Eight hours and thirty-three minutes.
I turned onto my back. I sighed. Sleep was clearly avoiding me in my state of overexcited nerves. It was just what I needed today; to turn up looking like I belonged in a film of the walking dead.
I looked at the clock once more. Five fifty-eight. Time was passing at such a slow rate, it seemed as though fate had it in for me today. No, the wait between my once a week meetings with my angel was not enough to make me suffer; on the one day that meant so much to me, I was forced to endure the cruel dragging of the hands of time.
I glared at the angry numbers and threw my covers back, running my hands through my hair in frustration as I sat up on the edge of my bed.
What the hell was I supposed to do to fill in the next eight hours and seventeen minutes?
One fifty-four. I shifted nervously from foot to foot, wringing my hands as I hovered outside the double glass doors that I normally could not wait to burst through.
Was I too early? Would he even be here yet? I did not usually arrive until around two-ten. Even though I did not have to be there until two fifteen, the standard fifteen minutes before my scheduled appointment time, he was always there when I arrived. Always.
Would he be here now?
The morning had dragged by like a sandbag through water. Everything I attempted to distract myself with was soon abandoned. My mind could not focus on anything other than Edward. The way the natural highlights in his hair would shine in the bright fluorescent lighting of the waiting room. The sound of his deep laugh when I said something that he found amusing. The way his eyes would light up the second I came into his line of sight. The feel of his hand as he held mine in an attempt to help me ward off a panic attack. The musky scent of his cologne. The way he said my name.
Everything about him had flooded my mind, making it futile to even bother attempting anything productive.
That was how I found myself standing apprehensively outside the clinic in the bitter frostiness. If I went in now, and he wasn't there, the disappointment I would feel would be incalculable. However, if I went in now and he was there, what would he think of me? Would he think that my early arrival was pathetic desperation to see him again? Would he feel as though I was imposing on his alone time; in his sanctuary?
Would he be excited to see me?
I took a step closer to the doors and my stomach flipped. I couldn't do this to myself any longer. The suspense was killing me. Plus, I could feel my bones seizing up in the frigid air. Taking a deep breath to settle my nerves, I balled my hands into determined fists and marched through the doors.
I was pathetic. Here I was sitting in my regular chair in the waiting room an hour before my scheduled appointment. The receptionist had not said a word when I walked through the door a whole half hour earlier than normal. She didn't need to; her knowing smile said it all.
Bella probably wasn't even aware of the significance of today's date. After all, she did not come across as the type of girl who went crazy over these kinds of things. She wasn't a girly girl who obsessed over her appearance or what other people thought of her. She was just … cool. She carried on with life in her own way, at her own pace, and didn't let the small things get to her. She was of the mind that life was too short to waste obsessing over making yourself into someone else, or to let a phobia rule your life. So she didn't.
I, on the other hand, was not so optimistic. I frequently succumbed to the soul-sucking downward spiral of my phobia, and I hated it. I was constantly questioning my actions and spoken words. My thoughts constantly revolved around the opinion of others, making life a hell of a lot more depressing and stressful than it should be, especially with the phobia I was relentlessly battling.
I guessed that was why I was freaking out about today so much. I over analyzed everything. I always counted down the days, the hours, the minutes, the seconds until I next got to see her. Always.
I was willing to bet that she couldn't even say how many times we had seen each other since that first Thursday six months ago. She wasn't that kind of girl.
To her, today was probably just another regular Thursday. Nothing special. We weren't even … we were just … were we friends? I could not even classify our relationship. There was nothing conventional about it. We had spent a total of three hundred and sixty minutes together. That was a total of six hours. In six months.
That barely qualified us as friends, let alone anything more.
And yet, those three hundred and sixty minutes seemed like a lifetime. I knew more about Bella than I did about any of my other friends, and I normally spent more time with them in a single day than I had with Bella the entire time I had known her.
I really was pathetic.
I sighed and closed the heavy tome that I had brought with me to help pass the time. It was not as if I was reading it anyway. It had sat open on the same page in my lap for the last twenty-four minutes while my mind had obsessed over Bella.
Then the object of my thoughts burst through the double glass doors.
I glanced at my watch. She was early.
My heart stopped for a split second. She was … she was early. That both excited and scared the hell out of me. I was going to be asking her to join me for coffee after our appointments today. Except I couldn't work out how I was going to ask her. And now she was here, in all her breathtaking beauty, and I had no time to come up with a way to ask her.
My heartbeat began to beat me senseless at her sudden appearance. Her cheeks were flushed pink from the cold outside and the hair that had escaped from her woollen winter hat was hanging wild around her face, the deep chocolate curls in beautiful contrast to the strawberry and cream skin.
Her eyes connected with mine the second she stepped through the doors, and she smiled at me. In that second, I felt all the worry and nerves melt away.
She was here.
He was here. In our usual spot, in his usual chair, in all his usual stunning attractiveness, he was here.
Furthermore, he looked excited to see me, despite my early arrival.
I began to close the distance between us, trying not to appear too eager. His eyes twinkled and his smile grew wider with every step I took. I felt my own lips stretching into what was probably a ridiculous grin, but I had no control over it. I didn't care. He was happy to see me. That was all that mattered.
I lowered myself into my usual chair to the left of his.
"Hi," he said quietly.
"Hi," I breathed in response. His hand stole into mine and the warmth of his skin sent shivers down my spine.
"You're early," he mumbled.
"I'm sorry." My smile faltered. Was he not as excited to see me as I thought?
"Don't be. Your earliness is by no means unwelcome. Any extra time I get to spend with you is worth more than words can express. Please don't apologize. You have no reason to."
My breath hitched in my chest.
"Bella, would you be opposed to spending more time with me? Outside of this waiting room?"
I felt my cheeks heat up with the intensity of my mixed inner reactions to his words. His words caused excitement, embarrassment, panic, and a multitude of other emotions to course through me.
Did he know what today symbolized? Had he also counted the months? Calculated the days, the hours, the minutes?
My thoughts ran unbridled through my mind, tearing me up inside. His question opened up so many avenues for the development of our currently undefined relationship.
Realizing that I had not yet responded to his question, I smiled at him.
"I would love nothing more."
Doubts started to fill my mind as her silence extended, the look of shock on her face causing all previous feelings of confidence to flee from my body. Her apparent excitement to see me had made mine for her triple, and her blush I had taken as a positive sign. I had decided to approach her about spending more time together before I lost my nerve.
Had I made a mistake?
"I would love nothing more."
Her smile washed all traces of doubt from my mind. Her positive answer generated a new wave of confidence within me, and the words I had earlier thought I would struggle with came flowing out effortlessly.
"You have no idea how pleased I am to hear that," I grinned. "I know of this café not too far from here that would make both of us feel comfortable. It isn't too big, nor is it too small, and it has very little in the way of clutter. It also has a very small clientele, so neither of us should feel uncomfortable or threatened there in any way. Would you care to join me for a coffee there after our appointments?"
"That sounds perfect," she replied, her voice sounding slightly breathless. Her cheeks still held a tinge of colour, and her chest was rising and falling at a somewhat increased pace. She was truly mesmerizing.
We sat in content silence for a few moments, our gaze fixed on each other. I was trying to wrap my head around what this afternoon's meeting meant for our future. No longer would I have to wait the agonizing seven days until our next encounter. We could make plans to meet elsewhere outside the clinic's waiting room on a Monday or a Tuesday, or even on the weekend. Every day of the week was now open to us to explore together.
It would not be easy, but we would find a way to occupy each other's presence in places that would not affect our conflicting phobias. I would not let my phobia ruin this for me. I may have let it overpower me in the past, but not anymore. Bella was too important to me.
As long as I had her, I could battle the demons inside me. And win.
Excitement coursed through my veins. Yes, it was just coffee – for today. For the rest of my life, however, it was much more. The coffee was just a start. Coffee could lead to lunch, which could then lead to dinner, movie nights, vacations … the possibilities of this new aspect to our relationship were becoming endless.
Sure, it would be difficult at first. Finding places where we could both be comfortable and not be in fear of panic or anxiety attacks would take careful planning and research. Edward had obviously been planning this coffee date for a while now if he taken the liberty and care to make sure that we would both be free from worry in the café.
This thought made my heart ache in all the right ways. I was still trying to process the fact that he wanted to spend more time with me, and in a location that had no relevance at all to our therapy.
As time went on, spending time together was bound to get easier. We had already helped each other so much, we were both finding that places or situations we found ourselves in that had previously affected us no longer evoked such strong reactions in us. Over time, we could hopefully organise to meet in places without having to think too much about the affects they would have on us.
I don't think we would ever be completely cured of our phobias, but I felt that, as long as we had each other, we could overcome all obstacles they threw at us.
"Bella, Doctor Hebbs is ready to see you now, and Edward, you can make your way down to Doctor Rastrelli's office," the receptionist informed us from her behind her desk, snapping us out of our comfortable silence.
Edward began to rise from his chair, his hand still clasping mine. Following his lead, I too got to my feet and we walked side-by-side down the hall.
We reached the point in the hallway where we would part ways and paused. Edward reached his free hand out and tucked a stray lock of my hair behind my ear - something he had never done before. His hand gently caressed my cheek as it retreated back to his side and he smiled warmly at me. My stomach flipped at the new sensations.
"See you in an hour," he whispered.
I squeezed his hand and smiled back at him.
"See you in an hour," I confirmed.
With one last moment to savor the connection we shared through the joining of our hands, we slowly broke the bond, our hands slipping away from each other until our barely touching fingertips disconnected. We parted, each headed towards our respective doctors' offices.
As I wandered down the rest of the way to Doctor Hebbs's office, I couldn't help the thought that nothing, not even spending the next pointless hour with my clutter collector of a doctor, could wipe the smile from my face.
As long as I had Edward in my life, everything would be bearable. Darkened cinemas, crowded house parties, cluttered doctors' offices … my phobia would become manageable, a mere hint of a shadow pushed away to the dark recesses of my mind.
As long as I had Edward in my life, everything would be wonderful.
A HUGE thanks to Hannah81 for her betaing awesomeness! This was a mess when she first received it. I'm surprised she didn't run screaming in the opposite direction. Thank you hun! 3
Thanks also to my pre-reader, CassieWH. She kept me afloat when I felt like I was drowning in my ocean of non-writer's block writer's block. 3
And THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU to missryss, winning bidder of the January Support Stacie Auction and prompt for this story. Without her, this story wouldn't exist. Her donation to the auction has helped Stacie's fight against cancer that little bit easier, so you should all give her a little shout-out of praise in your reviews. =)
Please leave a review. It's like chocolate for my writing soul... *grins*