Chapter Three

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I sighed deeply, allowing my trembling hands to pull on some clothes, my body preparing itself to go to the dreaded outside. I could physically see myself shaking as I glanced quickly at my reflection in the mirror, before grabbing my keys and forcing myself out into the harsh, cold air. I sucked in a deep, painful breath then fixed my eyes firmly on the ground, where they would stay for the whole walk.

You have to do this, Lara. I told myself. Too much has happened; you cannot carry on as you are. But even as I thought these things, they felt alien, disconnected from me. Somehow completely unreal.

I was acutely aware of the nameless bodies racing past me, and each one was filling me with that horrifying, panicky feeling that I detested. I hated being outside without a solid purpose, without knowing exactly where I was going. I didn't shop enough to know where to look, and I was finding that really hard. I wasn't at all comfortable with being out of my routine.

But I had to be. I had no choice. If I kept remembering that, then I would surely find a way to get through it.

I concentrated on my breathing to keep me focused. In...out...in...out... keeping my mind solely on that allowed me to ignore the rest of the world, and that was what I needed.

I spotted the first familiar-named high street store, and stepped inside. The bright, intense white lights immediately sent my worry-levels into overdrive. I tried to hide myself in amongst the racks of clothes while I calmed down a little, while I caught my breath once more, but it was too difficult. All the vivid coloured fabrics blurred into one, and it made my headache return with a vengeance.

"Can I help you?" A syrupy tone blasted into my ear drums. I turned around to see an extremely tanned, tall girl wearing bright red lipstick and a stark black pencil skirt. Unlike my scruffy, unkempt appearance, she was pristine and beautiful, without a hair out of place.

To say I found her daunting would be a massive understatement. She was like a powerhouse of intimidation! "I...I...uh..." I shook my head rapidly, trying anything to make her go away. She looked at me a little like I was mental, but I didn't care.

My feet took on a life of their own, and before I knew it, I'd walked back out into the—now comforting—fresh air. I raced along the street quickly, desperate to get away from that shop and that girl. That was all just too much.

I found myself wandering into a shop I knew well—the grocery store I got all my essentials from. I grabbed an ice cold can of fizzy pop, feeling the familiar, reassuring tin between my fingers. I instantly felt calmer, knowing where I was and what I was doing. This was my comfort zone, I was okay here. This, I could do.

After I'd paid the cashier—who I minimally interacted with at least twice a week—I sipped the liquid, taking stock for a moment. I needed to go somewhere that I could get something nice, without having to deal with pushy shop assistants. I just couldn't cope with that—this day was difficult enough for me, and I really didn't want to give up. Not over that. I felt like this was my one and only shot, and I didn't want my own stupid insecurities to wreck that for me.

I swiftly spotted a friendly-looking charity shop, which didn't instantly fill me with horror, so I chose to go into there, hoping desperately I would find exactly what I was looking for right away to save me any more trauma. Once inside I tugged my way through the clothes, inhaling the musky scent as I did. I kept glancing around, praying that no one would come over to talk to me, and for once, my luck must have been in, because I was left well alone.

I grabbed and examined a black jumpsuit, wondering if it would cover me up enough to be considered decent, before realising that it was much too large for my skinny frame. I hit me that it was going to be challenging for me to find something that actually suited me, that made me look anywhere nearly as good as Amy and her very fashionable friends. I didn't have any curves or boobs to hold anything up, which was going to be a problem. I used to dress well, before, but then my friends used to rush around to help me because I was sick. I was still skinny—maybe a little less so than now—but I had a reason for it. No one was going to judge my outfit then, whereas now...

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