The Freedom That Paper Gives

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Can you turn the voice in your head on mute?

CW: This chapter centres around anxiety, bipolar and depression.

As Percy was closing up he couldn’t get Marie out of his head. No one knew much about her, apart from her strict schedule. She definitely went to his university as he had seen her around campus, he knew at least that she didn’t do English Lit like him. On the odd occasion he had seen her she hung around with those ‘dark academic’ types that Percy assumed she lived with. He recognised one, Blake, from his classes. He also saw her last year at Pride, she was carrying an asexual flag. Which explains the cake Percy thought to himself, and also her embarrassment. Percy remembered that Marie was nearly always with the same guy, tall with dark, messy hair and tanned skin, who Percy assumed was her boyfriend. Percy’s own bisexual mind could not decide who was better looking out of the two of them, but he did think that they looked like a good couple. Marie always spoke perfectly and eloquently, like she had stepped out of a novel.

Percy had always thought he would fit in with them, he liked book and dressed similarly when he wasn’t working. But he never had the courage to go over to them, the group seemed complete. Marie seemed nice enough in the limited interaction they had, she always said please and thank you and would ask after anyone if they weren’t there. She seemed genuinely concerned if anyone was ill and had more than once brought in a get well soon card and flowers, she gave small gifts at Christmas and remembered birthdays. Percy remembered that one time she disappeared for a while last year, nearly two months, and when she returned she seemed different somehow. On a rare occasion she had come in with her friends and they would discuss literature, music and philosophy. They all seemed nice and Marie had apologised once they had all left for the noise even though they weren’t that loud. Once she came in on a date with a woman Percy recognised from his English Lit class, but he never saw the two of them together again so assumed they didn’t work out.

Percy sighed as he locked the door to the cafe and headed of home, he wasn’t sure if he had a crush on Marie or if he just wanted to be a part of her world.

Marie was walking home and with every step the embarrassment of the day was melting away. She would often spend all weekend in the cafe and had since her first week at university. She knew all the staff and they all knew her. Marie likes structure, arriving at the same time every day, sitting in the same seat, ordering the same thing. Most people with anxiety like structure, Marie finds it calmer her often racing mind.

Now she had begun to think about her anxiety it was beginning to play up, it had been all day which was why she had to get out of there. Yes I have taken my medication. Yes I paid for my drinks. No I’m not going to trip. No I wasn’t late for my lecture yesterday. Joy’s birthday is next Sunday not tomorrow. No Percy didn’t take the note the wrong way.

Marie stopped and the anxiety overtook her, maybe he did. It took her far too long to write that note, after both situations today she couldn’t afford any more miscommunications. She didn’t want to seem flirty or rude or too friendly or not friendly enough. She always signed a note with kisses back at home, but she thought against it now. Hell, she even spelled her own name wrong in one draft. She considered using both her first and surname, but would that be too formal? Would Percy mention it tomorrow? What if he wasn’t even working tomorrow? Then she would sound stupid, maybe it sounded like she wanted him to be there. Marie let out an aggravated sigh and watched it rise in the air in front of her. This is exactly what I wanted to avoid, she thought. After telling him I wasn’t staring at him I told him I was looking forward to seeing him tomorrow. Maybe I should just not go? No, then he would know it was because of him and he might get the wrong impression. Or maybe he would get the right one? Marie’s mind was racing, but she took a deep breath and began to walk home again.

Marie isn’t ashamed of her anxiety, nor her bipolar disorder. But that doesn’t mean she wants everyone to know about them. When they do they treat her differently and that just makes it worse. Marie’s mind goes back to last year when she went through one of the worse depressive episodes she had had in years. She wouldn’t get out of bed apart from to go to class, she wouldn’t wash or eat or sleep. She wouldn’t speak to anyone, not even Byron could get through to her. Even her therapist was worried. And when she finally got back to a good place everyone treated her differently, none of her roommates looked at her the same. They understand her better now, well Blake doesn’t completely but he’s trying. Now they all help out more, keep everything clean and bright. They know the warning signs for when Marie is going into a mania or depression and warn her. They know to curb her anxiety before it gets away from her by assuring her that they do like her and she isn’t a bother. But at the cafe its different, no one knows there. She can just be herself to an extent, its a quiet place to do her assignments or write. It’s a place that just for a few hours she can pretend everything is perfect.

Perfect? Marie stops again and her mind goes back to snapping down the laptop when she heard Percy approaching. Now he thinks she was looking at something inappropriate when all she was doing was writing her novel. Marie doesn’t like people reading it over her shoulder and she was in the middle of writing a very tensioned filled scene that some would consider sexual.

But Percy was one to talk, she had noticed him looking at her in the cafe or on campus. Then there was that one time at Pride last year, he looked so nervous and alone. All Marie wanted to do was go over to him with everyone as she assumed it was his first Pride. But her anxiety stopped her. What would she say? Would it look like she was assuming? What if he wasn’t even there for pride?

Marie had arrived at her front door and she knew that everything was going to be alright. Here she had friends that helped her anxiety quieten down. Maybe she would talk about today Byron and he would tell her she was being silly and what to do tomorrow. Byron was always good at that, ever since they were children. People always assumed that Byron and her were dating because they are so close. But in reality they are best friends and had been since they were seven. Byron liked to refer to them as ‘platonic soulmates’. If people didn’t assume they were dating now they assumed they would be soon. But Marie knew that would never happen because neither of them wanted it to. Marie herself being asexual biromantic and Byron being asexual aromantic made a conventional romance between the two impossible. While they had discussed the idea in their youth the actual thought of doing anything even remotely more romantic than hugging or holding hands with Byron was repulsive on both sides. Even the idea of embracing or holding hands with romantic intent is repulsive to them.

That doesn’t mean that Marie is repulsed by romance, in fact she is quite the opposite. She has had a few relationships since she started university, April, Freddie, Hannah and even Oscar. But she dismissed that idea in favour of their friendship. But all her relationships ended the same, having to explain for what felt like the hundredth time that she doesn’t want sex, she will never want sex. That while she isn’t sexually attracted to them it doesn’t mean she isn’t romantically attracted. That they can still be a couple and have a future that doesn’t involve sex. That is what Marie found most annoying about dating around, that they were fine with her asexuality until the third date. But Marie hadn’t dated anyone since last year, she hadn’t felt the urge to since she came out the worst of her depression. And to be perfectly honest this scares her a bit, Marie is at heart a hopeless romantic. While she is perfectly content being single she hopes that at one point she will find someone who understands her, someone who will be there for her and who she can be there for.

Marie as egotistical as it sounds needs to be there for someone and needs someone to support because she is so sick of people being there for her and her not being able to repay the favour. But deep down Marie needs to believe that love she has read about in Austen or Bronte novels exits, that love is messy and full of miscommunication but it works out in the end. It always works out if you both try hard enough. Marie needs to believe in happy endings, if not for her than for the people around her.

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