Panic slides her ugly hands around my throat and squeezes.
I have to get out of here. I can’t do this.
Stumbling away from Petra, I mumble something incoherent. I hear her call after me, but I can’t stop.
I break out of the garage and into the empty hallway, gasping for air.
I can’t breathe.
I see a water fountain and stumble toward it. Running the cold water, I put my mouth to it, wetting my dry lips. Breaths still burning my throat, my chest heaving, I lean my weighted body against the fountain, and I place my wrist under the running water—a trick I read about to help try to calm a racing pulse in the midst of a panic attack.
It takes for what feels like forever for me to maintain some form of control. For the blackness to clear from my vision.
But I’m still not right. My mind is still restless with fear. I’m still agitated.
All I can think and see are the what-ifs.
What if his car had hit the wall at the wrong angle? Instead of walking, he would have been carried out of there.
What if the gas tank had ruptured on impact? What if the car had caught fire? He wouldn’t have even had the chance to be carried out of there because he would be…
Jesus. My vision blurs again. I rub roughly at my eyes.
I can’t do this anymore.
I can’t keep feeling like this. I can’t go there again. I can’t lose someone I love in that way.
And Carrick deserves better than me. Better than I can give him.
Any normal girlfriend would have been running toward him, needing to feel him and touch him to know that he’s okay.
Not like me—running away, hiding out in the hallway, having a panic attack—because it’s all too much to deal with.
He deserves so much more. I’m not strong enough to be with him. I’m broken.
His dad was right. I should leave him now while the damage is minimal. I should have left him weeks ago. I should never have let it get this far.
I was just fooling myself, thinking I could do this.
Because I can’t.
As I turn from the fountain, I see Carrick’s vending machine filled with his chocolate. It sets off an intense crushing pain in my heart.
Closing my eyes on the sound of Carrick’s voice, I take a deep breath before opening them and turning to face him.
He looks confused. Pissed off. But scared. It’s there in his eyes, a tiny flicker of fear and uncertainty.
“What are you doing out here? I was looking for you.”
“Are you okay?” I ask, my voice shaking.
“I’m fine.” He brushes my words off with impatience. “What I’m not fine about is getting back from the track and you not being there.”
“I-I’m sorry.” My lips tremble.
“What’s going on, babe? Are you okay?” He takes a step toward me.
Instead of staying put or moving toward him, I take a step back. And he understands instantly. I see it clearly in the show of dismay that passes over his face.
“Andressa…what’s going on?” His voice wavers.
“I-I just…I don’t think I can do this anymore.” The words leave me in a breathless rush.
“You can’t do…what anymore?” His words are carefully spoken. Almost like he’s afraid to say them for fear of what will come.
I take a deep breath. “This.” I gesture a helpless hand between us.
“Babe, if this is about the accident…it was just a bump.”
“It wasn’t just a fucking bump!” The words rip from my throat. “You could have died out there!”
“Bullshit. It was minor. I’ve had worse. I’m here, Andressa, and I’m fine.”
He tries to placate me with his hands and words as he attempts to move closer to me, but I ward him off, moving further away.
He doesn’t like that. It’s clearly written all over his face in lines of deep frustration. But I can’t absorb anything of him. All I’m attuned to are my own fears right now.
It’s almost like it’s not really me standing here, thinking and saying these things. It’s like I’ve stepped out of my body, handed it over to someone else, and I’m staring back at myself in abstract horror, unable to stop myself from destroying the best thing I’ve ever had. Because all that matters right now is stopping the fear and panic, willing to do anything to make the noise in my head stop, make the debilitating and crushing panic stop, even if that means wrecking everything.
Him. Me. Us.
Tears start running down my face. “You’re fine now, but what about the next time? One wrong hit. That’s all it takes, and then you’re gone—forever. I thought I could do this…but I can’t. I’m sorry.” My head is shaking, and I’m stepping backward, farther away from him.
In this moment, I just need to get away. I can’t see past the fear. I’m blinded by it. And right now, I will do anything to stop feeling this way.
Turning mid-stride, I start walking away. But he grabs my arm from behind, pulling me back to him.
There’s fire and ire and hurt in his eyes. “That’s it?” he growls. “You say you can’t do this anymore, and then you just fucking walk away?”
My mind is reeling. I feel trapped, cornered like a wild animal. And like a wild animal, I’ll do what’s necessary to get away even if it means hurting the one person who doesn’t deserve to be hurt by me.
“Yes, that’s exactly how it is! I told you that I can’t do this anymore! I tried, and it’s not working. Now, let me go.” I tug at my arm, but his hold is too strong, and it’s like he doesn’t even feel me.