Another thought that Marisa attempts, but cannot quite be successful, is the remembrance of when she was walking to her own piano recital. Her hair had been perfectly twisted into a curly bun at the top of her head; she had been wearing a cream-and-pink dress with many flounces, the kinds that flare out when she spun in them. The parents had been walking beside her—silent and hurried, as always—and it had been all Marisa could to keep up. Beside her, tiny Jenn had been skipping and stopping to collect dandelions from the grass beside the sidewalk, but Marisa had hastened her steps, wanting to get to the performance hall early so that she could review her music yet again.

Marisa doesn’t just remember the walk to the recital. She also remembers sitting at the baby grand piano, fingers paused, her mind viciously whirling as she realized she could not recall how the song ended. She had sat there for several shaky-breathed moments, wracking her brain for the notes she was forgetting, but in the end, she could not remember them. She had leaped from the piano bench and run off the stage, where she had hidden herself away in one of the bathroom stalls and filled up almost a full roll of toilet paper with her tears.

But Marisa cannot allow herself to relive those moments any longer. With every step, her heart beats more rapidly. But this time, even though she’s cripplingly nervous, she is also full of steady resolve. No matter how much she wants to run back, she has to do this for Jenn. Has to. Just this once, and then, she can hide away for another few months. Jenn will understand. Jenn is gracious about everything.

The church is just less than a block away now. At the sight of it, Marisa stops to catch her breath, and also to take a moment to remind her heart to keep beating. She has to force herself to believe that the countless people in there aren’t going to stare at her. They’re there to see Jenn and her fellow piano students. It’s about the performers, not the audience. Marisa will be okay. I’ll be okay. I’ll be okay.

The church door is only a few yards away now. Marisa’s teeth clamp down on her bottom lip so hard that she feels blood freeze on her mouth, but she has to go in. She has to. Only the mind image of Jenn’s surprised smile convinces her to take the final steps to the church door. Just beyond that door is Jenn, who will play brilliantly and be so eternally pleased that her socially anxious sister has finally decided to show up at something. For the first time, Marisa feels something other than nervousness about the recital. She feels a slight hint of eagerness, of excitement, one that flutters ever so subtly in her heart, but it’s still unmistakably there. She feels empowered by this decision she’s making, and the thought of Jenn’s eyes brightening up in recognition makes her remember that, even though she’s about to puke out of anxiety, it’ll be worth it. She reaches into her purse and, after a moment or two of digging around, finds her inhaler, wrapping her fingers around it as a reminder that, if all else fails, she can remedy her scaredness with another puff of Albuterol.

The End

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