My Soul to Lose Page 2

Better to leave before that happened.

“Em…” I croaked. One hand went to my throat; it felt like I was being strangled from the inside.

Emma didn’t hear me; she was already strutting toward the cluster of tables.

“Em…” I said again, forcing that single syllable out firmly, ahead of the pressure building in my throat, and that time she heard me.

Emma turned and took one look at my face, and her forehead wrinkled in familiar concern. She glanced longingly toward the food court, then rushed to my side. “Panic attack?” she whispered.

I could only nod, fighting the urge to close my eyes. Sometimes it was worse then, when I saw only darkness. It felt like the world was closing in on me. Like things I couldn’t see were creeping toward me.

Or maybe I watch too many scary movies…

“Okay, let’s go.” Em linked her arm through mine, half holding me up, half dragging me away from the food court, the escalator and whatever had triggered this particular…episode.

“A bad one?” she asked, once we’d put a good two hundred feet behind us.

“It’s getting better.” I sat on the edge of the huge fountain in the center of the mall. The jets of water shot all the way up to the second floor at certain points during its routine, and little droplets pelted us, but there was nowhere else to sit. The benches were all full.

“Maybe you should talk to somebody about these panic attacks.” Emma plopped down beside me with one leg tucked beneath her, trailing her fingers through the rippling water. “It’s weird how they seem to be locked on specific places. My aunt used to get panic attacks, but walking away didn’t help her. The panic went with her.” Emma shrugged and grinned. “And she got really sweaty. You don’t look sweaty.”

“Well, at least there’s a bright side.” I forced a laugh in spite of the dark, almost claustrophobic fear still lurking on the edges of my mind, ready to take over at the first opportunity. It had happened before, but never anywhere so heavily populated as the mall. I shuddered, thinking how close I’d come to humiliating both me and Emma in front of hundreds of people. Including half a dozen classmates. If I freaked out in front of them, the news would be all over school by the tardy bell on Monday morning.

“Still feel like cooking up a little revenge?” Emma grinned.

“Yeah. I just need one more minute.”

Em nodded and dug through her purse for a penny. She couldn’t resist feeding the fountain, despite my certainty that no wish you had to pay for could possibly come true. While she stared at the coin on her palm, eyes squinted in concentration, I steeled myself and turned to face the food court, my jaws clenched tight. Just in case.

The panic was still there—indistinct but threatening, like the remains of a nightmare. But I couldn’t pinpointthe source.

Usually I could put a face on the dark dread looming inside me, but this time the crowd made that impossible. A group wearing our rival school’s colors had taken the table next to Sophie and her friends, and both sides were deeply engaged in a French-fry war. Several families stood in line, some parents pushing strollers, one pushing a small wheelchair. Some kind of moms-’n’-tots group had descended upon the frozen-yogurt place, and couples of all ages shuffled their way through the cattle shoots in front of each restaurant’s counter.

It could have been anybody. All I really knew was that I couldn’t go back there until the source of my panic had gone. The safest thing to do was to get as far away as possible.

Em’s penny plunked into the water behind me, and I stood. “Okay, let’s try Sears first.”

“Sears?” Emma’s frown puckered both her forehead and her glossed lips. “My grandmother shops there.”

As did my style-conscious aunt, but Sears was as far from the source of my panic as we could get and still be in the mall. “Let’s just look, okay?” I glanced at the food court again, then back at Emma, and her frown faded as understanding sank in. She wouldn’t make me say it. She was too good a friend to make me voice my worst fears, or my certainty that, at that moment, they could all be found at the food court. “They might have something…” I finished weakly.

And with any luck, by the time we’d scoured the juniors’ department, whoever had triggered my panic attack would be gone.

Maybe I should have tossed a penny in the fountain too.

“Yeah. They might have something.” Emma smiled, and we made our way quickly down the central corridor. The tension in my neck eased with each step, and I only realized I’d been grinding my teeth when my jaw suddenly relaxed. By the time we stepped into the cloud of perfumed air near at the Sears makeup counter, the panic had completely receded into memory.

It was over. I’d narrowly escaped complete terror and utter humiliation.

A little giddy from relief, Emma and I glanced through the dresses, then spent the next hour trying on goofy, pastel-colored pants and flamboyant hats to pass the time, while I kept my mental fingers crossed that, when we left, the coast would be clear. Metaphorically speaking.

“How you feelin’?” Emma tilted the brim of a neon green hat and smoothed the long blond hair trailing beneath it. She grinned and made a face at herself in the mirror, but her eyes were serious. If I wasn’t ready to go, she would hide out in the Sears granny section with me for as long as it took.

Em didn’t truly understand about my panic attacks—no one did. But she’d never pushed me to explain, never tried to ditch me when things got weird, and never once looked at me like I was a freak.

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