She starts to feel it in her chest. The first flicker is almost imperceptible, easily rationalised away as a figment of the imagination or the first effects of the third drink she's having. But then it comes back and doesn't go away, a faint tightness in the chest. Her heart feels twice the size, thumping against her ribcage. If someone at the party had been paying attention to her, they might have noticed her shifting her weight, fidgeting with her drink, restlessly looking about. But nobody does.
She thinks she might have it under control. She's doing all the right things. She's taking long, measured breaths. She's counting back from 10. She's looking at all the objects in the room. That's a red cup. That's a bottle of wine. That's a glass coffee table. This is a living room.
But now she feels the sweat from her palm against the glass beer bottle and she knows it's not getting better. She stays determined and grips the bottle tightly. She thinks she can force it away. She thinks her force of will is enough to keep it at bay. She knows if she lets it take over, she will become more afraid of it. She will feel more at its mercy. She will always vulnerable to it, always be trapped by it, forced to hide away lest it rears its head when she least wants it to.
She shakes her head, trying to drive the thoughts out of her head. She digs her nails into her knee. She focuses on the pain, hoping it will snap her back into reality. Her heart rate continues its slow, relentless acceleration and her sweater now feels much, much too hot. She's sure that her face has gone bright red, that everyone else has noticed but aren't saying anything but they're going to talk about it behind her back afterwards because nobody wanted her to be there in the first place and they would all be having a much better time if she just excused herself and why did she even come to this party in the first place, it was a terrible –
She wants to close her eyes to calm herself down but she's worried other people might notice. She tries to focus on the conversation around her. She's only catching fragments. Foreign words and exclamations and laughter.
The tightness in her chest spreads, her heart feels like it's violently trying to tear itself out of her. She's trying to count back from 10 but she keeps losing count, her thoughts are racing too fast. She can't focus on anything around her. All the people and objects and conversations are blurring together into an incomprehensible soup of shapes and colours and noise.
She needs to get out of there. It's only a matter of time before someone speaks to her and notice something strange is happening. She just needs to get herself to a bathroom and get herself together. She focuses her eyes and scans the room for the nearest exit. She tries to force her legs into action but they feel like concrete, her body is stuck to the couch.
Then she feels it, impending danger, the irrepressible need to run. Her body springs into action. She hopes she left at a normal rate but she knows she bolted. She feels all the faces in the room turn to her as she exits the room. She has no idea where she is once she gets to the hallway. The lights are off and she sees threatening shapes coming for her in the darkness. She walks down the hall, sliding her hand along the wall, desperately waiting for a door to conjure itself.
She stumbles into a room and the cold feel of the solid tiles tells her she's in the bathroom. She frenetically smacks her hands against the walls, looking for a light switch. She turns on the lights and slams the door shuts and locks it. No matter how hard and how fast she breaths, she feels like she's drowning. The room is spinning, her thoughts encircle and close in on her. She's going to die and she deserves it.
She makes for the bathtub and scrambles in and buries her head in the shower curtain. She cries deeply into the curtain, her whole body shaking against the ceramic tub which shakes in turn.
As she the tears flood down her face, she feels the tension in her muscles begin to dissipate. The hostile thoughts begin to make their retreat. The physical world begins to fall back into place. Already the previous moments begin to feel like they happened a million years ago.
She pictures how she must look, sat squat over her, holding the lilac and lilly pattern shower curtain over her hands and mouth as her big greens eyes glisten with tears. It would be funny if it wasn't so pathetic.
She wipes her tears away with the palm of her hand and wearily climbs out of the bathtub. She checks herself in the mirror and sees her make-up is running. She opens the cabinet and finds what she needs to clean herself up and reapply. As she applies her mascara and puts on her lipstick, she practices her lie.
Stomach bug, it's always flipping a coin with Indian food, eh? I should have known something was off when I shat literal fire after I woke up this morning. Make 'em laugh, no one asks questions.
She gives herself a final once-over in the mirror and heads back.