Distress Signal (October 2016)

The phone in his hand is like an anchor – something to hold onto to keep from being thrashed by the crowd pushing against him. His stomach twists with every stranger that grazes him, claustrophobic in the open air. His gaze doesn’t leave his screen if it doesn’t have to. He knows anyone can see him fidgeting and he has to stop, but he can’t. He needs every distraction he can take to pull him out of his surroundings as his nerves fray and spark like live wires.

He taps the phone, checking for a message before the screen goes dark and repeats the process until he gets what he’s waiting for. He hasn’t gotten it yet. As he stands at the curb and prays for a certain car to pull into view, he watches each that pulls forward. He takes a few steps back to count each car in line, reading license plates, taking note of the different paint jobs. None are the right one, but he keeps waiting.

He plays out the conservation he’ll have when he ducks through the passenger side door, his attention still on the shifting cars as he rattles on about how scattered he’s been today, how one comment was enough to splinter through his entire nervous system and left him feeling like an idiot whose mistakes compounded and compounded with every breath he took. “I’m not like this all the time,” he’d defend himself, because he doesn’t want to be a nuisance. If he were in any better mood, he wouldn’t be huddled into himself, wishing he could jump out of his own skin and run away from everyone else.

But when he gets the text he was waiting for and the car rolls up, he gets in and is not able to say anything at all. All his explanations die out on his tongue and he’s left completely helpless. That is, until his brother squeezes his hand and turns on the radio, music pouring out in a calming hum. He relaxes. With his brother, no words or over-calculating is needed.

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