Chapter Fourteen

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My phone started to ring in my hand and it shocked me so badly I dropped the device. When I picked it up off the floor I saw Trace calling.

"Are you going to come out of there anytime soon, Darius?" There was an attempt at humour, but it felt strained.

"I don't know," I said softly, "how can I— How can I come out of here?" My heart beat felt like it was going to burst out of my head, and I knew the other side of the door was completely uncharted territory.

"You have your show," Trace replied, "a plane to catch, and what if someone in a wheelchair rolls along and needs to use the accessible washroom?"

"But—"

"You're gonna be gone for months. I don't want to waste another minute not being able to be with you. Having a panic disorder doesn't change how I feel, Darius. Or, actually? I feel like I understand some things better. So, please come out, this isn't something I want to say on the phone." The calm, firm tone of his voice was slowly coaxing me out of the bathroom.

I opened the door and walked out while staring at the ground on the way over to my seat. I felt as if I wasn't really in my body, but in some kind of ghostly apparition. All the things I hated; feeling publicly humiliated, feeling like a freak, losing control. The worst case scenario had happened: a panic attack in front of the one person I never wanted to see me in that state.  He knew how fucked up I was. He knew. He knew. He knew.

"Darius," Trace said quietly. He was still sitting in the same seat, but his expression was different. He opened his mouth and then closed it. Then he said, "How do you feel?"

"Embarrassed," I mumbled. And on edge, after a panic attack I needed to decompress, not go into another stressful situation.

"Why?" He said it like like I wasn't such an obvious mess.

Finally, I looked at him. "I didn't want you to know..."

Trace's soft brown eyes fell on mine and he exhaled slowly. "Can I touch you?"

"You don't have to ask."

He shook his head. "I think I do. And, can I?"

I nodded and in seconds Trace was up off of his feet and standing in front of me. Slowly, he wrapped his arms around me and nestled his body against mine. There it was again; equal parts granite and soft squishiness. Our height and body size difference was such that Trace's head fit snugly against the crook of my neck and I could smell the shampoo Trace's hair. He wasn't a small person but he fit against me like one puzzle piece to another I don't think it would be right to call it a hug. It was too long, too intimate and too meaningful.

I could smell the shampoo in Trace's hair, feel the slow consistent thud of his heart beat, and his long fingers pressing into my back. The solid weight of him was more comforting than I thought it would be. Several seconds later, he was the one to let go. He sat down and patted the seat next to him.

I sat down.

Trace wouldn't stop looking at me. His expression seemed so open and non-judgmental that I didn't know how to take it.

"Are you sure about this?" I said.

"I'm sure, Darius. I know what it's like to have things that are hard to talk about. So, it's okay if you don't want to talk about it." He sounded like my anxiety wasn't the insanely huge deal I knew it was and I felt like I was going to burst into tears.

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