No Word 20

But he knew what it was like when the noise wouldn’t shut up, knew that when you found the thing that made the noise go away, you grabbed it and you never, never let go. You did whatever it took to keep it with you. He knew that. So he would give her everything she wanted and hold himself back.

By the time he joined the party again, Fran was back at their table, her feet propped on his chair, with two drinks and both of their desserts in front of her.

“For you, sir,” she said, handing him his drink and dropping her feet so that he could sit down. “I was just chatting with our neighbors here at Table 2.”

Chatting. Schmoozing. She had probably signed three of them up for free introductory sessions already. Beth, Jonathan, Sarah, Bill, and Olive, all lawyers, were clearly charmed.

“A personal trainer, huh?” asked Bill. “I bet your legal background comes in handy with that! Ha ha!” Bill was a dick.

Beth said, “Tell us more about this health at every size thing. I feel like I’ve read something about it.” Sarah nodded with an encouraging smile. Sarah was a sweetie, too pretty for her own good, and if she had an ounce of guile in her she’d use her looks to her advantage, but no. She and Beth leaned in, imploring Fran with their eyes to tell them everything she knew. Beth was constantly on diets and the office fridge sometimes suffered for it. Maybe Fran could fix that.

And so Fran launched into her topic with all the fizz and float she had in her. Looking around the table, Mick saw how every face was turned toward Fran, sunflowers to the sun. Then she turned it back to the group, elicited opinions, experiences, engaging everyone equally, making them feel included, invested.

Sarah had leaned in, confidentially, to Fran. “I’m sorry, I can’t help asking – it would be the weirdest coincidence, but… would you happen to know Charles McAdams?”

Fran looked at her, and Mick saw the dimming of the light in her eyes.“Uh, yes.”

“That is unbelievable. He told me all about you – all great things of course.”

“Is that so?”

“I’m sorry,” Sarah said with her hand at her heart, her sweet self-deprecation evident, “Where are my manners, let me introduce myself. I’m Sarah Stephens.” She held out a slim, elegant hand to shake.

“What? I’m sorry – what?” Fran’s face turned white and all the molecules around her body froze.

 

 

#

 

How she managed to mumble through the niceties, Fran would never know. Drowning in the rushing noise in her ears, she saw more than heard Mick say, “We gotta go. See you on Monday. Yeah you too. Best wishes to them.” And she felt his hand around her arm, leading her out of the ballroom, through the foyer, and out the front doors, where they stood in the atrium, and Fran glanced dully around her.

“Why are we standing here?”

“They’re bringing my car.”

“Oh.” She nodded sagely. “That was Sarah. Sarah. As in, ‘I love you, Sarah’ Sarah.”

“I got that.”

“It’s not so much that that was Sarah, as it is that Sarah was that.”

“Okay.”

“I mean she was so nice. She was so pretty and sweet. And so thin. Micky, she was like a size 6.”

“I hadn’t noticed that.”

“She was so…” Fran stopped and bunched up her lips against a wave of tears. She looked at her shoes. She fiddled with her purse clasp. “Oh god.”

What would she tell a client to do? Go for a run. Not gonna happen right now, not in three inch heels. Meditate, then. She sent her attention to her breath, compassionate attention to her breath, and noticed all the tension in her muscles as she fought tears. “Oh god.”

Mick’s car had arrived and he ushered her into the passenger seat. She sat there trying to breathe until Mick’s voice cut through the haze: “Seatbelt. Fran. Seatbelt. Let’s go home.”

Seatbelt, right. She buckled her seatbelt with fumbling hands, the car moved forward, and without preamble the bomb triggered by being face to face with Sarah finally exploded She burst into tears – wailing, body-wracking, hyperventilating tears. She gripped her hair with both hands and tried to keep breathing through the nightmare pouring from her heart. This thing was happening to her, insisted on happening to her right now, and she could only let it happen and hope it didn’t kill her. She let the sobs take her.

Mick was saying, “I didn’t know. I had no idea. Frannie, honey,” and looking panicked. She just shook her head. It wasn’t his fault. Now that it had happened, it seemed inevitable.

The drive, arriving at her house, stumbling into the house, finding her way somehow to the bed, she would never have a clear memory of these things, as her brain simply refused to register the world around her. When at long last her tears had run out, she simply lay there and shook – not the whole-body shivering of cold, but sporadic, hard trembling that suddenly gripped one muscle group, and then the another. She didn’t try to control it. She simply breathed and allowed her body to release whatever it wanted to release.

I see myself as a mountain, she thought. I feel solid. I make myself still as a mountain pond. I reflect things a they are. I see myself as space. I feel free. That Thich Nhat Hanh, he’s onto something.

She wept then, quiet, wholesome tears, simple grief for things as she had thought they were, for what she had mistaken for freedom.

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