Flash Fiction #56 – Ever the Same
Okay, so we’ve got to new blogger for the flash fiction posts–please welcome Siobhan Muir! Yay, Siobhan, we’re glad to have you!
Laughter bubbled from her, and she clapped her hand over her mouth–as if she were just as unfamiliar with the sound as he was. Her hazel eyes sparkled with bits of brown and copper and gold mixing with brilliant green as they captured his gaze. He couldn’t look away from her. How had he ever thought she was plain? He was obviously a fucking idiot.
“Hey, after we clean up here, why don’t we…” he began, but his words died as soon as they hit the air.
Her eyes widened, fixed and unblinking as she stared over his shoulder. The blood drained from her face almost as fast as her smile faded. Her head dropped and she appeared to stare at the table between them, but he could see she was staring through the curtain of her hair. Glancing behind him, he didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, and he turned back to her.
“Are you okay?” he asked, laying a hand on her arm.
She jerked her arm away from him as if she’d touched a live wire. Her gaze flew briefly to his. Her pupils had blown so wide they’d all but swallowed the irises, and her breath was far too rapid and shallow. Her fingers had turned white from clutching so tightly to her phone. “I have to go. I’ll text your driver. I’m sorry…I can’t–”
Whatever she couldn’t do, he wasn’t going to find out any time soon. She was race-walking toward the bookstore exit, and there wasn’t a goddamn thing he could do about it, he still needed to finish the Q&A portion of the evening. As much as he wanted to chase after her, he couldn’t. These people had waited here all night. He glanced down. Her purse was still under the table.
He texted her, but there was nothing from her, and it seemed to take forever to finish answering questions for the assembled readers. Thankfully, he’d signed the bookstore stock earlier in the evening, so he could just grab his rucksack and Eliza’s purse and go. He continued to text her, but there was no response. He had no idea if she wasn’t getting his messages or was just ignoring him. As soon as he cleared the building, he started calling her. And as he expected, the calls went straight to voicemail.
As soon as he was in his room, he tossed his backpack and her purse on his bed, went to the doors of their adjoining rooms and knocked. No answer. “Eliza?” Nothing. He called her again. She didn’t answer, but he heard the muted sound of her phone ringing. She’d at least been there.
Worry sat like a boulder in his gut and he knocked again. What if she needed help? Crossing the room, he grabbed her purse rifling through it until he found her wallet. Her keycard was inside where he’d hoped it was. She must have gotten another card from the front desk. Heart in his throat, he walked into the hallway and knocked on the outer door. When where was no response, he called out, “Eliza, I’m coming in.”
Sliding the key into the slot, he sighed in relief when the lights flashed green and the lock disengaged. He pushed open the door and felt around for the lightswitch in the darkened room. When the overhead light flickered to life, there was no sign of her. The blackout curtains had been drawn, the bed was neatly made, and the bathroom was empty. He looked around for her phone thinking there might be some clue there as to where she’d gone. When he didn’t see it, he called her again.
He startled slightly as her ringtone sounded right next to him then was silenced. He turned and slowly opened the closet door. Elliza was huddled in the corner on the floor. Clutching her phone so tightly her hands shook, she glanced up at him, eye wide and face tear-stained. Her breath still came too frantic and fast.
His heart ached at the expression on her face. How many times had he seen that same haunted look on his sister’s face? Moving slowly, he stepped into the closet and sank to the floor, squeezing in next to Eliza. He slid the door along the track, closing them away from the light, and pulled her into his arms. She was stiff for an endless moment, then she sank into him, burrowing close, but she continued to tremble and gasp.
He pulled her over his lap to sit between to sit between his thighs and drew his legs up so they bracketed her. Her skin was chilled and clammy against him. Keeping his arms wrapped tightly around her, he pressed a kiss to the back of her head, and murmured, “It’s okay. I’ve got you.”
She took a shuddering breath that nearly broke his heart. “I — I’m sorry.”
“Shh. You’ve nothing to feel sorry for. But you need to slow your breathing before you pass out.” He took a long, slow breath, letting her feel the rise and fall of his chest against her back. “I want you to match your breathing to mine, okay?”
She nodded jerkily, hot tears splashing onto his forearms.
He took another deep measured breath and held it for a few seconds, hopeful as she tried to do the same. “Just focus on my voice and and the sound of my breathing. Those are the only things I want you to think about, now.”
She nodded again, still shivering almost violently.
He continued with his drawn out, exaggerated inhalations, quietly encouraging her as she gradually relaxed into him.
“Do you want to talk?”
“It’s okay. We don’t have to.” He smoothed his hands up and down her arms. “Whatever you need. I’m here.”