I drove with Andy in the car, where I parked downtown so we could wait for Tina and Cassie. In the car, we sat with the windows open. It was a bit hot, but both of us preferred it to the crowd. I smiled as Andy received a text, followed by a call. He chuckled, and I nodded to reassure him taking it was fine. I sent Angie a text, wondering how the ride was going.
Eventually, she got more nervous. It was over keyboard, but I could still tell. Andy had finished his conversation by then, and was staring at me in confusion. “What’s wrong?”
“She’s about to have a panic attack. I gotta call her.” I explained.
He nodded. “Yeah, do that.”
“Thanks.” I said, sighing. “Angie,” I murmured when she picked up. She huffed, and I clenched my fist to keep from sighing. “Angie, baby. Talk to me.” Her voice was small, wavering and shaky.
I huffed a laugh at her attempt to sound better than she was. I ran through the checklist of things to say when someone is undergoing a panic attack, making my voice more reassuring and quiet. “Baby, listen to me. Focus on the sound of my voice,” I said slowly, coherently. “Breath, Angie. Everything is fine. You’re going to be fine. In and out, breath.” I told her, “Count with me, okay?” I said encouragingly. She counted slowly, voice wavering as if it slipped in and out of her control. “That’s it, baby. Stay calm. Listen to my voice, everything will be okay. I’m right here, I’m not going anywhere, baby.” I told her calmly.
She started to squirm, mumbling about the people on the train. “Don’t think about them, Angie. Think about me. About you. When you get to your room, Skype me, okay, baby? Think about that, it’s just four more hours, and I’ll be with you the whole time.” I interrupted. She questioned my position with the group. Thankfully, the girls hadn’t arrived yet. “They won’t mind, baby. Don’t worry, okay? You’re my priority, alright?”
Angie apologized and I sighed, expecting it. “Hey, hey, listen to me. Don’t apologize. You’re not doing anything wrong. I want to do this. Andy never minds. Everything is good.” She described her surroundings and I resisted the urge to swear. “Is the bathroom small?” I grunted when she confirmed. “If you go out, I’ll still be on. Alright?” I replied, knowing she would take the chance. I thought of ways to get her away from a claustrophobic panic. “Open the window, okay, breath.” She chose the moment to be selfless and aware of the public. “Too bad.” I replied, jokingly harsh. She seemed more relaxed. Angie asked about Tina, whether they had arrived. “No. Neither is Cassie.”
She assured me she was okay, thanking me multiple times. “Good,” I said, glad to have her feeling better.
I sighed when the line clicked. Orlando glanced at me. “Alright?” He asked. I nodded. “Did she ask about Tina and Cassie?” I nodded again, running a hand through my hair. “Did she apologize more than once?” I scowled and nodded. “Was she worried about other passengers?” I mumbled in agreement, running a hand down my face. Andy nodded. “Very standard.”
I sighed, suddenly exhausted. “How do you know so much about it?”
He laughed bitterly. “Two of the three girls I’ve dated, and Sef had and still have severe anxiety, plus I talked to Angie every day for two years. You get to know the tricks.”
I nodded. “Yeah. You seem to have a knack for that.”
“No, it’s just more common than you’d expect. You just learn what works best, and what the ticks are for each. Easy.”
“How many times a week would Angie have an attack?” I asked. We had stopped talking daily in grade ten, sometimes we would go weeks without it.
“Three times, at least.” He said, frowning slightly. I raised an eyebrow, trying to remember how many times she had come to me in a time of panic through our years. “She often mentioned bothering other people instead of me. Sometimes she would ask me whether it was a good idea if she spoke to you. She often didn’t, for fear of intruding or whatever. Needless to say, with every conversation came at least a dozen thank yous and I’m sorrys and you really don’t have to do this.” He muttered, sensing my tension and confusion.
“Did she?” I frowned, wondering about the way she had asked about me. We had had a couple falling outs during our time, and a few of them lasted what felt like ages, but what I remembered to be a few weeks at most. “What was it like?”
“Tiring. Good practice. Sad. Worrying. Very repetitive. Mostly confusing. Too hear that someone hated themselves so much. To see that there was so much misery and confusion. So much denial and struggle. It was hard. But, someone had to do it.”
“Why you?” I asked, referring to why he stuck around.
“Because I cared for her. I still do. I needed her to see that she wasn’t as alone as she felt. That there was hope. That despite her falling out with three friends at once, my girlfriend of the time included, I would still be there. Every night. Waiting, helping, encouraging. When she didn’t show up, I was worried. Hell, I resisted the urge to chain message a string of worries. But, the next morning, as usual, came a string of apologies along with an I hope I didn’t keep you up and a repetitive flow of Shit, sorry Andy.”
“Did she ever try to explain it?”
“Only everyday. She wouldn’t always get to it, though. Most often, she would spend a while trying to make sure I was okay with this or not busy or not tired yet and sometimes I was, but I full on knew that she was too, so I stayed there. Even if I told her I really wasn’t the best at it, she still came to me. I don’t know why. Maybe because she felt comfort, or because I lighten up a room and that was a good refresher. Her being there, and endlessly thanking me, and assuring herself that I was okay, was her way of saying she cared for me. Her way of showing how much my presence made a difference. Her excuse for openly complimenting me fifty times a day to make both of us feel better. She felt better reassuring me, thanking me, apologizing, saying the ramble that was her thoughts, giving me clues as to when to say what, and I ran with it for her sake, and because despite the way it was bittersweet, it still made me feel better about myself, every time.”
“Was she aware you sometimes struggled with it?” I asked quietly, fiddling with the hem of my jacket.
Andy nodded, chuckling to himself. “Very much. It was one of the reasons she spent so much time making sure I was fine, reiterating that fact that it was nice to have an ally, but that she worried about my worrying. And worried that I would spend too much time on her. And worried that I wouldn’t always be on board, because she saw herself so poorly. It was an impasse. I was strong on getting her to like herself, and she was strong on getting me not to dislike her. But there was always this wall, where we would both want to make each other feel better, and in the end we did it together. It was hard, but it was also be very heartfelt.”
“Thank you.” I said. I had always felt bad about the times when we had stopped talking. I thought of her endlessly. Once, we went a month without so much as glancing at each other. I spent the entire time wondering what had gone wrong, how I could fix it.
Orlando nodded, smiling slightly. “My pleasure. I would say she’s like the sister I never wanted, but I do want her in my life, and she’s better than a sister. She’s my family. The best anyone could ask for.”
“Did she give you a letter every Christmas since grade nine?” I wondered. She had said that she only gave them to specific people.
“Yes. I still have them all to this day. They’re the finest and most heartfelt pieces of writing that were ever addressed to me. No girlfriend will ever beat that.”
I smiled. “I know. Although, the first one was partially controversial and created a one month fall out. I still read them. She’s written me other letters, the non-holiday ones. They are great as well. I can hear her talking to me when I read them.”
“I read them when I’m having bad day.” Andy said with a laugh.
I smiled. “She’s wonderful.” I laughed freely. “I worry about her so much.” We both sighed, nodding. “Sometimes, I wish I could have been in BC with her. I wish we, or I, hadn’t waited so long.”
“What made you realize?” He asked.
I shrugged. “I had been thinking over and over about what she had said, what had happened in the few days before she left. It made me go through all the memories I could remember, just so I could attempt to take her point of view. I realized how sweet and patient and selfless she was. Of course, I’d always known she was kindhearted, but it gave me a new way to look at it.” I sighed, “I don’t know. I think, ever since she confessed, I realized I might have been lying to myself. I mean, the only other relationships I had lasted a few months at most. And I wasn’t as happy as I ever was with Angie. I denied it though, after figuring it out. I knew that if I didn’t, I would do just as she had.” I laughed, “It was so obvious, when she came back. Every time she did, I almost cracked, but I managed to stay true to it. She was back, and I had this small opportunity. I was sick of it. Sick of waiting, denying. We had both realized that something was different, unsaid, but neither said anything until after I received the call for my boss confirming my move to Victoria.”
Andy laughed then. “What about your girlfriends? You dated through most of University, didn’t you?”
“Not really. I had a booty call for the first couple years, but I knew it was odd. I wind up dating her for a couple months, and we decided it was better to remain friends. I dated this one girl after that, and we got on well, but she moved at the end of semester. And I attempted a relationship with this one girl, but it only lasted like two weeks. Apparently, I had a luck for hooking up with girls that moved in and out of cities a lot.”
Laughing slightly, he said, “I started dating early, I suppose. It lasted about six months, and then, almost a year later, I dated this girl for a while. We broke up mutually, though. My girlfriends and I often stayed friends afterward. And then I dated this girl a few months after the start of grade eleven and we broke up during the summer, so. But, in Uni, I hardly dated. I was busy with school, and I didn’t really care for it. In year one, I dated this girl, and we hooked up again in year three, but yeah. So that’s five relationships, but four girls.”
“Wasn’t that mutual break up your entire grade ten experience?” I asked, laughing to myself.
Andy chuckled. “People had been teasing me, saying she would break up with me to hook up with my friend, who pretty much instantly became her best friend. She talked to me about it, and we ended it. It was all right. I didn’t exactly mind.”
“Isn’t it a thing that people don’t hook up with their friend’s exes?” I asked teasingly.
Orlando laughed. “Apparently not. I’m dating two of my exes friend, also known as your girlfriend’s sister.”
I chuckled. “Point taken.”
We joked around a bit to let off the tension and ease away from serious topics, and so that the girls wouldn’t suspect anything when they arrived.