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"Deep breaths Claire... deep breaths."
The seven year old girl whispered little words of encouragement to herself as she waited for the door to open.
Claire May Thompson was to be left alone in the house for a few hours while her mother runs errands. Being the anxious child she was, a panic attack was quickly beginning to wrap its fingers around her mind.
"There's nothing to be afraid of."
But there was. Terrible thoughts swirled in her head like a whirlpool.
Car crash? Robbery? Shooting? Loss of direction?
Claire's bottom lip began to tremble as she gripped the home phone, debating whether to call or to be brave. She wanted desperately to listen to her mother's voice, and to hear she was okay.
Now, a small part of her mind was reassured that everything was well, but the majority of it was terrified of the unlikely scenarios that relentlessly pummeled her insides.
Anxiety slowly got the better of her; swirled the black food colouring through the clear water. Claire began to dial the string of numbers that had been buried in her mind, just in case of times like these.
Just as the dull ring began to sound, the front door opened with a squeak and a jingle of keys. Her mother entered, holding several bags of groceries. She looked exasperated. Her cell phone rang audibly in the back pocket of her blue jeans, and by the look on her face, Claire was sure it had not gone unnoticed. Her mother put down the bags and, closing the door with her hip, she took the phone out. Claire hung up on her end. A sigh escaped her mother's lips, and she looked upon her child.
"Again?" she asked sadly.
Claire looked down, sniffing.
"Are you mad?" she whimpered.
"No. Just disappointed."
-= 4 years later =-
Claire May Thompson stood in front of her body-length mirror, looking at herself. Not really admiring, but just looking. Everything seemed okay. The wrinkles in her clothes were smoothed, her hair was glossy and brushed, her legs were clean-shaven, her face was as bright and excited as it could be. She flashed her biggest smile.
You can do this, Claire.
"Claire, honey! Time to catch the bus!"
The almost 13-year old's eyes widened.
Let's do this.
A constant shout greeted Claire as she walked into the cafeteria. She clutched her lunch tray tightly, willing away the anxiety. Claire looked for her friends in the jumble of people. Her heart began to thump wildly as she scanned the room. They set on her two best friends, Mary and Anna, and started to walk towards them.
"Hi guys!" Claire greeted them with a grin as she slid into the bench.
They looked up from their smartphones and smiled weakly.
"Hey," Mary said unenthusiastically.
"Hello," muttered Anna.
They looked back at their screens.
Claire's smile began to fade.
"Everything okay?" she asked.
Mary hesitated. "Yep, it's just a... little... crowded at this table."
Claire looked around and saw nobody but the three girls. She frowned. Anna and Mary didn't want her here, did they? She stood up.
"I see you two have grown together this summer."
Hot tears threatened to fall.
Mary and Anna looked down guiltily.
Claire looked around for an empty table through blurred vision. One in the far corner beckoned her, even though she didn't think she would end up there.
"I'll just, move, I guess."
She picked up the lunch tray and strode away. Plopping down on a bench, she agreed with her stomach not to be hungry today.
How could they do this?
Her two best friends, deserting her on the first day.
It's okay, Claire.
She began breathing deeply to reassure herself.
You're not alone. Look at all these people!
Claire scanned the madhouse that was the cafeteria in vain. The tears began to come, rolling down her cheek and leaving a damp trail behind.
There just wasn't enough room.
San Jose, California
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