Some days, it comes without a fight. The deep breaths take in the cool, calm air and exhale all of the tenseness in my shoulders. But today is all strain and ill-timed interruptions to my calm. In an attempt to keep myself from falling to pieces, I turn on some calming tunes on my Pandora app and close my eyes for a second, gripping my iced latte so hard between my palms, I’m surprised when the top doesn’t pop off of the thin, plastic cup.
Something featuring calming flutes and the sound of a waterfall comes in through my headphones, and I can feel some of the tightness loosen in my neck. I know Keith will be here soon, and I don’t want him to see me this upset. So I focus down and out like my yoga teacher has always instructed me. It took me nearly three years to figure out what she meant by it. I shut down the sounds of anything except the music and focus solely on my breathing. And inch by slow inch, the need to set fire to everyone around me slowly fades to a low simmer in the back of my mind.
When I open my eyes again, Keith is there, smiling with contentment. I jump a little at his sudden appearance. I manage not to break his jaw, which I feel is an accomplishment all in itself.
Pulling my headphones out of my ears, I do my best to smile as genuinely as possible at him. “Thanks for scaring me to death, creeper,” I say by way of a greeting.
“I didn’t want to interrupt, dude. It’s not often I get to study your relaxation methods first-hand without you knowing I’m doing it,” Keith shifts in his seat, flipping his sun-bleached dreadlocks out of the way, the beads attached to the ends of them clinking together like a cheap wind chime. He’s dressed in all handmade, knitted wool garments that has me sweating just looking at them, dyed in stupidly bright colors that made me angry just to look at.
I’m pretty sure the agency gave me the most annoying hippie in the whole company as some sort of test.
I’m pretty sure I’m also failing that test.
I take a big sip of my latte, spinning the cup so Keith can see the word “Decaf” written on the coffee in Sharpie. I tipped the cashier $10 to write decaf on my very caffeinated coffee to keep Keith from giving me the Lecture of Caffeine and its Effects on Anger Management. I’ve heard that lecture so many times, I can actually say it along with him. But I’ve tried life without caffeine. It makes things worse.
“So, how are we feeling today?” Keith asks, sipping at what I assume is barely flavored tea water.
“I’m fine,” I say, gritting my teeth against my anxiety, against my anger. “Things have been difficult, but I’m dealing. This is fine; this is all fine.”
Keith sighs, leaning his elbows on the table in front of him. His hazel eyes are deeply concerned as he inches into my personal space. I clear my throat, uncomfortable. “If you won’t be honest with me, Serena, I can’t help you.”
How can I be honest with you when you’re the one causing some of my problems. “I am being honest. I just need a break, Keith. But I don’t know how to let it all go. Even if I went on vacation, I’d still be haunted by everything left to do here. If you really want to help, you can help me finish cleaning out the house. Or finish my next book for you.”
Keith tilts his head to one side, his eyes warming. “I would definitely do that for you, if you honestly think it will help.” He reaches out, then pulls his hands back. He knows how much I hate people touching me, so it’s a relief when he pulls back. I feel instantly better. Maybe this weirdo does really understand.
“I’d really like that.”
“After we finish cleaning out the house, we can find a storage space to keep everything you would like to keep. After that, we’ll find somewhere for you to vacation where you can finish your book in peace.”
I feel a little dizzy. “Thank you. I--” I glance out the window. It looks like the clouds are clearing up a little. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Say you’ll get better.”
“Not having to go through all of her things alone will help,” I say, brushing tears from my eyes. I still can’t even think about her without feeling pressure building inside my chest. “That’s what makes it so hard.”
Keith taps the table in front of my arm, his way of mimicking rubbing my arm for comfort. “If it will help. I have tomorrow free.”
And for the first time in weeks, I could feel the tenseness in my shoulders melt away without all of the silly breathing exercises and meditation. For this moment at least, I actually feel better.