Deanne never liked the outdoors especially during the summer. It was the combination of the weather and the numerous individuals out and about that had always discouraged her. Nevertheless, she did not have much choice on this hot afternoon because with a groaning stomach, she had to make her way to the supermarket to secure groceries.

She inched through the front door with a hard swallow and a mind racing with intrusive thoughts of what could go wrong. Her gaze landed on the multiple construction workers drilling into the sidewalk outside the apartment. The intense screeching and workers yelling over it forced her back indoors. She slammed the door, locked it and sunk down to the floor, digging her fingernails into her scalp.

“I can’t… I can’t do this,” she whispered to her trembling self. The last time she had stepped foot outside was three weeks ago for the last day of university before summer break.

To calm herself, she decided to try an exercise from her therapist; one that relieved her stress. She breathed in and out her noise and counted down from ten with a deep breath between each number.

“Seven… six… five…” she whispered. Now her thumping heart slowed, and the fear melted away. She brushed the sweat from her brow and headed to the kitchen to grab a glass of cold water, chugging it down. Afterward,she opened the refrigerator where a single bottle of ketchup stood.

Maybe I should go ahead and drink it, she pondered. It would probably be way better than going out… there…

The bottle was to her lips as she argued with herself.In the end, she decided against the idea thinking how bad ketchup was without anything to go with it.

Praying she might have missed something earlier, she checked the cabinets again. Not a single bread crumb to be found. Under the sink was a box of cup ramen with nothing inside. This irritated Deanne.

“… Tck… you don’t have the decency to throw away the box, Lisa?”

Her roommate Lisa had eaten the last remaining cups,claiming she was on the brink of starvation. As an apology, she had promised to grab groceries, but Lisa had not been home since the incident two days ago.

That girl forgot, I just know it… Maybe she’s hanging out with her boyfriend again, speculated Deanne. Guess I have to do it myself… uggghhh…

Her stomach snarled in agreement.

She dragged her feet upstairs to the bathroom and inspected herself for the fourth time in the large mirror. Her appearance meant everything so with a small damped washcloth, she scrubbed her face once more.

As she brushed her hair, the reflection in the mirror watched.

Who am I kidding? I look revolting. Pathetic. Ugly. What’s the point of even trying?

Her therapist told her to not think about herself in that light: “You should learn to accept yourself flaws and all.” However, Deanne thought he had no idea what he was talking about. He had never lived a day in her shoes and therefore could never know what she struggled with daily.

In the bedroom closet, she zipped up her shabby grey sweatshirt and flung the hood over her head.

With another countdown and additional deep breaths,she headed out the door where the sun’s rays smacked her across the face not even five steps out.

“I gotta do this, huh?” she muttered.

The construction workers paid her no mind as she walked passed. Loud traffic and dozens of pedestrians conversing soon replaced the grating noises of machinery. There were far more people than she had expected. Sounds of screams, honking cars and laughter reverberated in one ear and out the other. Laughter? Were they laughing at her? But why? It was too hot to think and now she was uncomfortable.

Almost running to leave, her breathing became more rapid as approached the gigantic supermarket. Inside, the cool air soothed her and managed to calm her nerves. There was still some fear to her steps, but she steeled herself to hurry and complete her task.

Through each aisle, she kept a lookout for the cheapest options. As a college student with a lousy part-time job, not a lot of money came her way. She struggled daily with her finances and without a roommate, she would be on the streets.

With her neck and shoulders still frozen with tension,she arrived at the bread aisle and spotted the last remaining loaf priced at ninety-nine cents! She made a dash for it when someone else with the same idea grabbed it first.

“Ah,” she mumbled, stepping back away from the stranger.

He didn’t notice her right away as he was still examining the item, but his tune changed once he saw her, at last. “Oh! I’m sorry,” he said. He observed the polished concrete and his cheeks flushed red.“You were, uh, here first, so you can have it.”

“Umm,” she murmured as she studied her scuffed sneakers.

The two of them stood in silence unsure of what to door say to one another.

“… O-okayy,” whimpered the stranger as he placed the item in her cart. “I’ll just… grab something else…” He tripped himself,scurrying further down the aisle. Relieved by his disappearance and by the fact she was finally done shopping,  she headed toward the self-checkout lanes.

Back outside, she scurried along the pavement, eager to get home. This little adventure and that last interaction stressed her out,so she wanted to be away from everyone and everything ASAP. Her strain continued when a light tap on her shoulder alarmed her. She twisted her head to the side curious.

It was the same guy from the store and this time he was maintaining eye contact. He had a long face with messy brown hair that covered his ears. The stare from his brown eyes triggered Deanne to study his grimy shoes instead.

“Y-yes? Did you need something?” she stuttered the question.

He flashed his crooked teeth to smile but hurried and shaped it back to a frown. “T-this is forward for me. I think yo-ou’re cute and all,”he stammered. “But do you t-think you and I can like… hangout?”

She tilted her head to the side and said, “I don’t… I don’t know you…”

“O-oh, yeah, right! Duh!” He expressed with a look of panic. “I-It’s Rocky! No, wait! My friends call me that but it’s Rockefeller… yeah,it’s a weird name and al-”

“No… I meant, I don’t know you,” she interrupted,whispering as she tiptoed away.

“T-that’s what y-you meant,” he said, scratching his head. Now blushing from ear to ear, he spun around and took off.

When he was far and away, a sudden realization hit Deanne. Sometimes words leave her lips with little thought put into them and many times she had slipped up around other people.

Why are you so stupid? She interrogated herself.

She unlocked the door to the apartment and greeted Lisa and her boyfriend, Brendon. He had blonde short hair and looked as if he could play basketball with his tall lanky body. He looked as if he had eaten in a very long time. In contrast, Lisa was shorter, had black hair and was a lot rounder.

They were sitting on the living room couch watching what appeared to be an action movie with all the explosions and screaming happening on screen. They were both wearing matching purple shirts meant for couples which made Deanne gag in her mouth a bit.

Lisa’s face lit upon seeing Deanne and her eyes drifted to the few bags she held. “… So that’s where you went,” she giggled.“You never leave this place, but I guess you were starving, huh?” 

Deanne ignored her, pulled her shoes off at the door and walked passed them into the kitchen. Her jaw dropped the minute she flung the fridge’s door open. Various meals and snacks lined the once hollow glass shelves. Deanne’s inexpensive groceries looked rubbish in comparison.

“Oh, yeah!” shouted Lisa. “Brendon helped out as well!So, make sure you thank him too!”

Deanne ambled toward Lisa and Brendon as if she wanted to say something, but the words were not coming. Instead, she focused on the movie on the large television.

Brendon noticed and asked, “you want to watch with us?We bought The Bat Rises on sale for 6 bucks! Look at it!” he pointed to the TV with enthusiasm. “Look at that Ultra HD quality. Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Deanne could not stand Brendon’s passionate tone the few times they talked. For her, it was draining to keep up with him, so it was no wonder Lisa got together with him as they are both two peas in a pod.

“I have homework,” proclaimed Deanne. “I-I’m just remembering that now…”

“Isn’t it summer break, Dee? We don’t go back to school ‘til August,” said Lisa.

“W-well,” stumbled Deanne. “I want to at least get ahead start on some studies…”

“C’monnnn… It’s rare that we get to talk to each other let alone watch a movie anymore.”

“You’ll miss the good part if you leave now,” said Brendon.

The pair tried convincing her, but it all fell on deaf ears as she no longer paid them any attention. Hearing them talk over one another jumbled with the loud surround sound of the movie in the background was infuriating. Something inside was telling her to scream, but instead she counted…

…Eight… seven… six…

Deanne did not budge fast enough to Lisa’s liking, so she took matters into her own hands by grabbing one of her arms and pulling her toward the couch. A huge mistake. Deanne snatched her arm away with a surge of ferociousness and screamed, “DON’T TOUCH ME!

Lisa flinched, and Brendon hopped from his spot. There was an agonizing minute of silence until Lisa started to apologize. “I-I’m sorr-”

Deanne was already on the move, rushing upstairs muttering numbers. She dived into her bedroom and slammed the door as hard as she could.

Lisa hurried up the steps and banged on Deanne’s locked door. There was no reply from inside, but that didn’t deter Lisa.

“Deanne! Look, I’m sorry! Open the door, please!”

No answer.

“You don’t have to hang out with us. Just hear me out this one time!”

Still nothing.

Meanwhile, Deanne was having a fit of her own. Her pillow was soaked with tears as she thought about how much of a wreck she was.Her therapist words from before echoed in her head, but soon clouded by herself-pitying.

Brendon grabbed hold of Lisa and stopped her banging.“She’s not coming out, Lisa…!”

Lisa, with leaky eyes, wanted to scream and bang more,but the Brendon’s grip and serious face had forced her to retreat downstairs alongside him.

“Sometimes, you have to let them be,” said Brendon as he laid back in position. “I have a friend exactly like her who is quiet, shy and… never wants to be bothered. He’s a great friend to have but hanging out issomething he never wants to do.”

Lisa was slumped on the floor, half listening to him as Deanne’s situation still weighed on her mind. “I don’t think I can accept that,” she whispered. “She always gets like this and it… hurts to see her. You expect me not to bother her after all that?”

 “I think in myopinion, you should do exactly that. It will be better for the both of you,don’t you think?”

Lisa was becoming angrier as she listened to him speak on what she should do. “I don’t think you’re necessarily a good friend… if you believe anything of what you’re saying right now,” she said. “I know what’s important for my friend. I’ve known her a lot longer than you have. We’ve been through this before and we’ll work on it together.”

Not wanting to argue, Brendon shook his head in disapproval. Lisa didn’t like this, snapped and once more they were back quarreling. Deanne eavesdropped on their conversation from her room with her face buried into her knees. She had longed to be normal, but there was no changing her, she thought.

“Will I be like this forever?” she mumbled.