The faint shrill of her alarm clock hit her eardrums causing her to awake with a start. She sat up straight and gazed around the room, disoriented and wondering at what point she succumbed to her exhaustion. A cold wind brushed against her face causing her bindy to break out into goosebumps and the hair on her arm to rise. She began rubbing her arms, trying to rub the cold out of her. Her eyes wandered to the object that had awoken her and it read 5.30 am. Slowly she slipped out of bed and tiptoed to her bathroom so as not to awake of her family members. The wooden floors creaked loudly and the cold sent shivers down her spine. Canada is always cold around October but this time it was colder than usual.
On reaching her bathroom, she grabbed her toothbrush, and furiously brushed her teeth. When she put her brush down, she looked up at her reflection and for a minute, it was as though she had seen a ghost. She had pale features but now, she looked like all the color had been drained from her face. The rings under her eyes were dark and deep making her seem older than she was. She splashed some water on her face and brushed out her tousled hair.
A sharp ringing in her ears brought her to her senses. She gripped the edge of the sink with all the strength she could fathom but it wasn't much and she slipped to the floor. She started breathing heavily, and in a few minutes, she was practically hyperventilating. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead followed by a cluster of creases. She grabbed at her night robe for her phone and quickly scrolled through it until she saw the name Stella Morgan on her screen. She kept trying desperately to reassure herself but she could feel herself losing her grip on reality. She pulled herself back up and practically stumbled to her chair and pressed the call button.
Three rings and a sleepy voice answered "Hello?" There was dead air for about 2 minutes and then Natalie breathed out, her breath ragged and shaky. "Stel it's me, it's happening and I don't know what to do" she gasped barely audible. Immediately, Stella snapped out of her daze and replied in a comforting borderline stern voice, "I'll be there in 5 minutes."
Natalie and Stella have been neighbors for more than 6 years, ever since Natalie's family moved from Toronto. Even though it's been 6 years, the only friends Natalie has been able to make was Stella and a kid from their block who moved away a year ago. The move has been hard on the entire family and they are still facing the repercussions. She and Stella are in their final year of high school and along with the fun, comes the stress as well and she's found it really hard to battle. Her anxiety attacks started shortly after her mid-terms when she flunked two if her exams and risked not passing the year. And to make things worse, her family situation wasn't getting any better either. Her parents were constantly fighting and she was left to look after her little brother and sister. Their family is not a wealthy one and so both her parents have to work. It's been a stressful year on the entire family as her father recently lost his job. Natalie tried to keep the validity of her attacks a secret but sometimes it was hard to keep them at bay let alone mask her affliction.
A loud rap on her window brought her back to her senses temporarily. She pushed herself out of her chair and fumbled around in the dark to find the latch and open the window. It took her a few tries and when she finally got it open she collapsed to the floor and curled into a ball, hugging her knees close to her chest. Stella's voice echoed "It's all right Nat, you're going to be fine. I'm right here with you. Breathe. In. Out. Repeat. Again..." After a few minutes she straightened herself up again and the tears poured down her cheeks. She hugged Stella and that's when it happened again. Every emotion that Natalie felt in that moment flowed right though her into Stella causing her to gasp and pull away. "What the fuck?" Stella exclaimed, wide-eyed and confused. The tears on Natalie's cheeks dried and she looked straight into Stella's eyes but she couldn't see her. It was like she was in some kind of trance and despite Stella's attempts to bring her out of it, she didn't blink. Stella grabbed her hand and once again, the connection was formed and all of Natalie's pain and frustration flowed through her. For a minute, she was paralyzed but this time it was Natalie who retreated. She stood up and looked around her room, confused. She didn't remember having the attack or calling Stella meanwhile Stella was still reeling from what she'd experienced.
"Nat...what do you remember?" Stella questioned her. "Well, I remember waking up and brushing my teeth and then that's it, everything is black after that. I don't remember calling you or the attack. A-are you okay? You don't look so good Stel" "I'm fine" Stella replied curtly. "It happened again Nat. You don't remember it?" Natalie looked confused for a minute and then after taking a long deep breath she replied, "We have to figure out what this is. Maybe it's the cause of my attacks. What if these aren't panic attacks, that I'm experiencing but, something else?" Stella slowly rose to her feet, still a little shaky but more determined than ever, "it's late now" she said, "We'd better get some rest, we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow. We're going to figure this out. I promise you, we will figure this out and we'll deal with it." Having said that she crawled back out the window and Natalie went back to bed, both still contemplating the morning's events and it's consequences.