Sarah Lee tucked her legs into her chest as she sat tucked in the corner of the classroom, which had been reserved as one of the party rooms for new graduates. She restlessly played with a gold keychain in the shape of a cat’s head that hung around her neck.
The chill of the metal against her chest was a welcome relief from the warmth that she felt building up in her cheekbones.
Sarah gazed around the room, as Billy’s other friends: Adrian, Ryan and Pawel were chatting away and sipping glasses of fruit punch. She knew these three through Billy and Emily, but they weren’t really friends with her.
Sarah felt herself naturally begin to recede further and further away from that group, hugging her legs, planning her butt in her seat like it was her last remaining life source.
Emily had only been gone a few minutes, yet it felt more like an hour. She guessed this was how a dog must’ve felt about the passage of time.
The door handle tilted with a squeak, as Emily entered the classroom, joined by Christian, Antonio, Billy and Collin.
“Hey buddy!” Adrian shouted to Billy from across the room.
As the two friends approached each other, readying their arms for a bro-hug, Sarah pushed her way between them, and wrapped herself around Emily’s arm like a snake constricting its prey.
Sarah must’ve felt like the narrator from The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, except her xanthophobia (fear of the colour yellow) was replaced by a crippling phobia of awkward social situations that haunted her the longer she sat in a room of strangers.
It’s not like Adrian, Ryan and Pawel were strangers, but she never really had a conversation with them, and only saw them when they were conversing with Billy or Emily.
Sarah felt her face begin to beat with the blood rushing to her head, as she continued to could squeeze Emily’s arm. She glanced down and released her grip when she realized she had been squeezing so hard that Emily’s arm looked like a ripe tomato about to pop.
She treated Emily like her own personal stress ball, and Emily didn’t seem to mind. Besides, Sarah felt more comfortable when Emily the stress ball was around. The only other person in the room she wasn’t deathly afraid of engaging with was Collin.
In fact, the more she thought about it, the more she felt a yearning attraction to Collin’s “lone wolf” personality. She wanted to ask Collin out on a date, but was too afraid to make the first move.
It wasn’t socially acceptable for a woman to ask a guy out, or to get down on one knee and propose, according to her father. Her relationship with her father was difficult to put into words.
He was a troubled man; he drank heavily, smoked heavily, and couldn’t bother to care for himself or his daughter since his wife abandoned them five years ago.
Sarah rarely spoke to her father these days. She considered him the origin of her crippling social anxiety. She hated being in the presence of Mr. Damien Lee.
Damien, much like the child from The Omen, was haunted by more than one demon at any one time.
His alcoholism and excessive smoking, tied together with a string of lethargy and daily suicidal thoughts was enough to put Sarah into a deeper and darker hole than she already dug for herself. She thought she would have to dig for two instead of one if things kept going the way they were.
She paid her way through college, worked two (un-steady) jobs, paid the bills, and put food on the table; not just for herself, but for her dead-beat father.
He took EI leave from his teaching position a couple of years ago, and never returned to work. Since then, the money pit had run drier than the rays of a crisp Arizona sun.
The stress affected her grades, her friendships and relationships. She coasted through journalism school barely making the grade, because her crippling fear of social situations prevented her from reaching out to the sources she needed for her stories.
It wasn’t until she met Emily that she felt she had a chance to turn her life around. Although she took journalism classes with Billy, the two never really spoke to each other or worked on any assignments together.
Sarah first met Emily when she was given the task of covering Peake College’s annual winter fashion show. Emily was the event coordinator for the show, and for the first time in her journalism career, the story had fallen into her lap.
On any regular day, she felt like a dog chasing ambulances all-day just to get interviews. Emily had graciously provided her all the information she needed, as well as professional photography of the models in their outfits. It was enough to propel her story to the front page of the school paper.
Sarah’s story encompassed three pages, with two-page spread dedicated to photos of the models, and interviews with Emily and some of the other models.
In a creepy way, Sarah wished she could be Emily – take over her mind, body, and soul and just live everyday in her shoes.
She saw Emily as this total badass who could speak her mind, make friends as easy as 1-2-3, and fiercely loyal, to the point where she wasn’t afraid to throw herself into the fire to protect a friend.
She was Sarah’s better, more confident half. Touching Emily evoked a feeling of confidence and made her feel more attractive.
With her confidence boosted, Sarah felt she could ask Collin out tonight and everything would turn out okay.
Staring into his eyes from across the classroom, Sarah felt a grin cross her cheeks. She began embracing the idea that for once in her life, something was finally going to go her way.