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by Cindy Calder 8 days ago in anxiety

Staying Afloat

As she waited for her date, Sloan fidgeted with everything on which she could lay her hands: the flatware, the wine glass, the napkin, the small vase of flowers, and the small candle. She rearranged them all. When she’d exhausted touching all the items on the table, she turned to her lap and proceeded to smooth her dress and pick the small pieces of lint from it. Her mind raced with so many thoughts. Multiple questions circled repeatedly despite her attempts to halt them.

She knew her anxiety was rising and getting the better of her. So many thoughts circling in her mind like a shark preying on its food source. Would he like her? Would he find her attractive? What would she say to him? What would he say to her? What would they eat? Should she have a drink? Did the dress she had on make her look fat? Was her makeup all right? Was her dress too short? Why didn’t she get that manicure? Would he see the pimple on her forehead? Did the color of her dress compliment her complexion? Questions and more questions looped on constant replay in her mind as she waited. She thought her heart and mind might explode from the force of it all.

The waiter approached. “Miss, would you care to order a drink while you wait?” he asked.

Should she order a drink? Yes, yes, and yes. No question about it, she should.

“Yes, I’ll have a glass of the French Merlot please,” she told him and mentally added, A very large glass of Merlot.

Finally, the waiter placed the Merlot on the table before her. She took a large sip of it and relished in the warmth embodied therein. It was not too sweet, but fruity and velvety with a richness that hinted of black cherries and spices. It was delicious, and she savored every bit of it as it slid down her throat and warmed her to her toes. She prayed it would help relax her.

Seconds later, she was sitting there, the long-stemmed wine glass full of the beautiful, burgundy Merlot directly in front of her. Her mind wandered again, and she envisioned herself sitting on the rim of the wine glass. The rim was narrow and small, and she was like a gymnast struggling to steady herself as she sat upon it and not slide downwards. She feared that at any minute, she would lose her grip and be consumed by the wine.

“Sloan?” a deep voice interrupted her imaginary, potential drowning.

Returning to reality, Sloan looked at the person who had called her name. He was tall, slender, and somewhat attractive. He wore horned rimmed glasses that suited him quite well, giving the appearance of intellectuality. However, she was soon to find out that this was a bit misleading.

‘Yes, I’m Sloan,” she said and stood. He was much taller than she was. Nervously, she extended her hand and immediately wondered if it felt sweaty as he shook it. “Hello, Marshall.”

Marshall smiled. “Nice to meet you,” he said as he took his seat across from her. He nodded at her wine glass.” I see you started without me. What are you drinking?”

Sloan nervously fidgeted with the glass of wine that had threatened to consume her only moments earlier. “A French Merlot. It’s very good.”

“Excellent. I’ll have the same,” he told the waiter who had just arrived to take his drink order.

Glancing downwards and then all around the room, Sloan looked anywhere she could to avoid making eye contact with Marshall. Her mind was still racing with thoughts as to what he thought of her, and she was mentally trying very hard to escape off that narrow rim of her wine glass.

Marshall, however, was totally at ease with himself and the environment. He looked around to see if he knew anyone, and locating two friends, he waved nonchalantly at the couple seated not too far away by the bar.

“So, Sloan, are you hungry? I hear this place has a great steak.”

“I don’t know,” Sloan said. “I don’t eat red meat. But yes, I am hungry, I suppose.”

Marshall leaned on his elbows and stared at her in disbelief. “No red meat? You must be crazy! A nice, medium rare cut of beef – there’s nothing better!” Not being the most sensitive of guys, he failed to notice the look of dismay that crept across Sloan’s face.

Nervously, Sloan glanced down at her lap and then picked up her wine glass, drinking a large swallow. Taking a deep breath, she said, “I don’t usually eat much meat. I’m what you might call a part-time vegetarian.” Why was she telling him this, she wondered? She was sure he had no interest in knowing what she ate.

“Well, all right then,” Marshall said and laughed. “Good to know. But you don’t know what you’re missing.”

Marshall eyed Sloan. She was much quieter than the girls he normally dated. He was also wracking his brain to think of something to say so that she would participate in a conversation. He wondered what Jordan had been thinking when she paired them. Sloan was not someone he would normally ask out. She didn’t look the part, and she sure didn’t seem to have the social skills he looked for in a woman. And if she rearranged her flatware one more time…well, he might just have to reach over and mess it all up. He mentally laughed at the thought.

“Hey, Sloan. Do you mind if I go and speak to my friends over there?” He nodded at the table where the couple was sitting that he’d waved to earlier.

“Sure. No worries,” Sloan said, immediately relieved that he’d soon be gone.

As he left the table, Sloan’s shoulders slumped, and she exhaled a huge sigh of relief. She was tempted to get up and leave. Marshall had not impressed her in the least. He appeared self-centered and self-impressed. However, she did not wish to be rude, so she did not leave. Instead, she continued to stare at the glass of Merlot sitting before her. Various emotions played across her face as she imagined herself precariously attempting to hold onto its rim by her fingertips. But instead, she slipped ever downwards and fell into the deep, burgundy wine, and it consumed her. She was struggling to stay afloat.

So intense were her thoughts and visions that twenty minutes elapsed before Sloan even realized it, and still, Marshall continued to sit at the other table, laughing and talking to his friends. Sloan glanced at him from beneath her thick lashes. As the trio cackled with mirth, she realized that he was most likely telling them about her, poking fun at her expense. She looked down, wanting to run, but steeling herself to remain and finish the glass of wine. She reminded herself that she was relieved that he had obviously checked out of their date.

The wine was nearly gone, but the visions of her swimming in circles within it remained vivid. Eventually finishing the wine, she took her purse off the empty chair beside her and pulled out the money to pay for the drink, leaving it on the table. She rose and started to make her way to the exit when a greater vision invaded her thoughts. A vision where she managed to make her way, climbing back up to the rim of the glass and scaling it to freedom.

Stopping dead in her tracks at the unexpected vision of herself, she turned and looked at the table where Marshall sat, still talking with his friends. As she methodically and with slow determination walked toward their table, the group grew silent, watching with surprise etched on their faces. Marshall stood as she approached and warily looked at her, unsure as to what she would say or do.

Sloan steadied her nerves and displayed a brilliant smile before she said, “I just wanted to say good night, Marshall. I’m sorry, but you just aren’t my type. I prefer kind men who talk about more than the menu. I hope you and your friends have a great night. Enjoy your steak,” she said and turned to leave before he could reply. The shock on his face had been obvious. She reminded herself that she’d never see any of these people again, so she did not care one bit what any of them thought of her. She also reminded herself never to allow Jordan to arrange another blind date for her. This one had been a disaster.

As she reached the exit, another man caught up with her, lightly touching her elbow to get her attention. Unbeknownst to her, he had been silently watching the entire chain of events between she and Marshall from where he sat at the bar.

“Excuse me,” he said as she stepped outside the entrance.

Sloan stopped and turned around to look at him. “Yes?”

The man suddenly seemed a bit unsure how to proceed. He looked at his feet for a moment before he finally raised his eyes. Sloan immediately recognized that they were beautiful eyes – and more importantly, they were kind eyes.

“Excuse me, but I just wanted to say I saw what happened - I heard it all from where I was sitting at the bar. You were amazing. I mean, you handled that amazingly. Are you OK?”

Sloan looked down at her feet, a blush staining her cheeks, before she looked up and gave the man a beautiful smile.

“You are kind, but I am fine. In fact, I feel great,” she said.

“My name is Christian,” he said and smiled. “Please, will you come back inside and allow me to buy you another glass of wine? I would enjoy talking to you and getting to know you.”

He didn’t say it, but he wanted to scream that he knew exactly how she’d felt, and he knew the feeling all too well. He, too, struggled, with racing thoughts, anxiety, and multiple insecurities, and was able, therefore, to recognize the same when he saw it so visible upon her face.

Sloan hesitated, but then graciously accepted his invitation. At this moment, she was feeling very proud of herself, and more importantly, she was realizing that she was a survivor despite obstacles with which she might be presented. This invitation was an extra treat. And she was positive that this man would be worth getting to know. She did not know why, but she already felt a connection to him that she could not explain.

She smiled. “I would love another glass of Merlot. You are most kind. Thank you, Christian.”

Christian’s smile grew by leaps and bounds, and he quickly stepped aside so that she could proceed him.

As Sloan reentered the restaurant, Marshall glanced up, and a look of pure horror crossed his face for a mere moment before it changed to aggravated annoyance. Completely ignoring him, Sloan made her way to the nearby bar and took a seat as Christian followed behind her.

The bartender smiled at Sloan as he placed the wine in front of her. This time, when Sloan looked at the glass of Merlot, she was dangling her legs off the rim with pure amusement and wore a humongous life preserver around her neck. She continued to smile. She wanted to scream at the top of her lungs that she was a survivor. It felt amazing. She was like that little, resilient flower that grows between the rocks. Years of therapy had culminated to this end, and she knew that it was a pivotal point, marking a time of change and progression for her.

Christian looked at her and smiled as he asked her name.

“My name is Sloan, and I am a Survivor,” she said and then laughed. “It’s so nice to meet you, Christian.”

Cindy Calder
Cindy Calder
Read next: Never In the Cover of Night
Cindy Calder

I grew up in Charleston, SC, living there for several decades before relocating to the Atlanta, Georgia area. I have a BA in English from USC and have always loved traveling and the arts.

See all posts by Cindy Calder

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