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Author's Note: This story was inspired by the idea that falling in love can 'fix' your mental illness. It can't, but being loved and supported can make dealing with it easier. I hope we can all find that. Thank you for reading.


Photo by freestocks.com on Pexels


I step inside the library and let the thick air, full of unread words, coffee, and aged paper hit me like a hug hello. It almost numbs the anxiety buzzing around my stomach like a hive of bees, but only just for a moment.


The library is busier than I thought it would be, and the mere sight of more people than I thought makes my chest constrict, like an allergic reaction to being stung. I manage to reorient myself and make my way to my usual quiet corner, with its soft chair, worn and big, which envelops me when I sit, like I'm being hugged by a beloved family member. It's so strange that this corner is always empty, because it's the one place in the library with, in my opinion, the gold at the end of the rainbow. Even the old CDs glitter like silver if you twist them in the light, and the boxes of tapes sound like pieces of gold when you get them off the shelves. I know, I know, I know - why don't I just use an app and listen to the audiobooks from home? Well, I would, but they don't always have the best narrators, or the older books, and anyway... it's good for me to get out of the house sometimes. Isn't it? That's what I've been told, and over time, I think I've started to agree.


I slip a CD carefully into the Walkman I managed to get for a bargain online, and let the soft silky voice fill my ears, gentle, and calm enough that it calms the buzz of anxiety within me, and blocks the noise around me - everything, around me. And soon, it's just me, and the words being read aloud. It's like magic. It's like medicine. It's almost like I'm meditating, and I trance as the words enter my brain and twist so that a story appears there instead.


'Excuse me?' a voice sounded - a different one than the narrators, more muffled. I opened my eyes and saw a new librarian - maybe a little older than me, with kind brown eyes, and a gentle smile, as if she was genuinely pleased to see me.


No, my anxiety awoke in my chest and started to reverberate so loudly that it hummed in my ears. No, she's being nice because she has to be. She's going to tell you to leave; to go because you're in the way. What were you even thinking, coming here anyway?


‘S-sorry?’ I stuttered, as I awkwardly pulled out my headphones. Wow, you can’t even pull-out headphones properly. She’s going to think you’re so weird. I try to focus on her, to ignore the anxiety that grows increasingly louder every second, but I can’t look her in the eyes. Not right now.


‘Is everything alright? I notice you come here to listen to CDs and tape audiobooks a lot. I just wanted to say, you know you can take the audiobooks out if you like, to avoid sitting around with me when you can be comfortable at home,’ she adds, laughing a light laugh that sits lightly on my chest – a soft flower that the bees can get distracted by, just for a while.


‘Um, it’s okay,’ I managed to say. ‘I like it here.’


‘Me too,’ she replied, with a soft smile. ‘But just don’t tell my boss, okay? Otherwise, he’ll make me work extra shifts.’ She grins, and I find myself smiling back. And when she squeezes my arm goodbye, I find myself thinking about the warmth of her touch far more over the rest of the day than anything my anxiety tried to tell me that I was doing wrong.


I started going to the library a lot more often after that. Not every day, my anxiety got the better of me sometimes and I was too scared to leave the house, but I finished that audiobook much quicker than I had finished any of the others.


I didn’t expect anyone to notice, but she did.

‘Finished with that book already?’ She asked one day, after I slid the last CD back into the case and the case back onto the shelf. Look at how weird you’re being, coming here so much - of course she’d notice a weirdo turning up at her workplace almost every day.


The anxiety was so loud in my head today that all I could do was nod back at the nice librarian.


‘Did you enjoy it? I can order the sequel for you if you like,’ she said, smiling at me. Look, she’s having to hold back a laugh at how weird and pathetic you are.

‘I-I’ I started to say, so the silence didn’t drag on too long. Come on, idiot, get the words out. ‘I did, yeah.’


Her smile grew wider, despite my awkwardness. I tried to ignore my anxiety loudly repeating the fact that she was trying not to laugh at me. ‘Great! Would you like me to order the sequel for you? It should be here in a couple of days.’

I nodded again, smiling this time, thanks to hers being so infectious - I caught it like a cold.

She nodded back, before walking over to the librarian's desk and gesturing me over. The way she moved was so light and quick that it was almost like she was moving through water, or if gravity had less of a grip on her. It was magical, and for a moment, I was able to ignore my anxiety about making a fool of myself in front of people and follow her to the desk.

She smiled wider when she saw me walk up to her, and I felt a heat spread across my face. Brilliant, now you look stupid.

She turned to tap at the computer in front of her a few times before turning back to me. ‘Right, I can definitely order it for you. I just need your library card.’

I nodded again, before passing the thin piece of plastic to her. Let’s just hope that she doesn’t see that your hands are shaking.

‘Olivia, is that your name?’ The librarian asked, the smile still on her face like she genuinely liked it. Don’t be stupid, she just acts like that with everyone she serves.

‘Yeah - Yeah. I uh, I prefer Oli, though.’

‘Okay! Nice to meet you, Oli,’ she said, still smiling. ‘My name’s Jess.’

‘Hi Jess,’ I said.

She giggled, and I felt awful.; I opened my mouth to apologise before she reached out a hand towards mine, passing me back my library card. The warmth of her hand as it brushed against mine was enough to quieten my anxiety trying to tell me that I’d made a complete and utter fool of myself.

‘Hi Oli,’ she replied. ‘So, the audiobook CDs will be here in about a week. Maybe you could come back then? It- ‘

She stopped herself, and a slight pinkness, like a blossoming rose in the sun, spread across her face. She cleared her throat, before adding, quietly, ‘It - it would be nice to see you.’

‘Really?’ I blushed then too. Fierce and red, like a fire. I didn’t mean to say it out loud, but I was so surprised that the word just slipped out. ‘Sorry, I- ‘

‘No,’ Jess said, quickly. ‘Don’t be sorry. Really, really,’ she added, smiling slightly. ‘I love the physical audiobooks section, and hardly anyone uses them, apart from you. It’s nice to see someone who appreciates them.’

‘Thanks,’ I replied. ‘It’s nice to see you, too.’

My anxiety started going haywire, telling me I’d just said the worst thing possible, but then Jess reached over to squeeze my shoulder again, and I was able to just about ignore it.

‘See you next week, Oli’ Jess said, and all I could do was nod; not because of the anxiety - even though it was still there, trying to get my attention. But for some reason, I couldn’t find the words I wanted to say back. It was like the air in my throat had just disappeared, taken away into the air between us.



 


Next week came by quicker than I thought it would. It was like the days flew by, just as excited to get to that day as I was.

But as soon as the day actually came around, my anxiety was so intense that I couldn’t get myself out of the front door. I felt awful, like I’d let Jess down, and after a lecture on how much of an idiot I was and how much Jess likely hates me now, I resolved never to go back to the library again, as sad as that thought actually made me. It was for the best, really - it at least took the weight off of my chest and, helped me breathe easier, even if it did add it back onto my shoulders.

I’m not sure why, I didn’t even know Jess all that well, but the thought of letting her down and not seeing her again, made me feel sadder than I thought possible.

I sat with that sadness for the rest of the day, feeling downright awful, until after 5 pm, when I heard a soft knock on my front door. Or, I thought I did. As soon as I heard it, my anxiety buzzed so loud in my brain that I was convinced that I’d somehow misheard it. That it wasn’t actually a knock on the door, but just the old bones of the house settling, or the dull footsteps of someone outside.

It wasn’t until about an hour later that a car door slammed outside and my anxiety convinced me to take a look and make sure that everything was okay. It was only then that I saw something small on my doorstep, like it had been left there.

I rushed to grab it so quickly that my anxiety didn’t quite have time to tell me what an idiot I’d been, or to not open the door at all.

It was a carefully wrapped audiobook - the same one that Jess ordered for me a week ago. The one that I was meant to pick up today if my anxiety hadn’t stopped me.

Underneath it was a note, written in careful and easy-to-read handwriting. It said:


Oli -

I missed you today. Hope you’re okay. I took this out for you using your card, and delivered it to the address on file. My number is below, text me to make sure it got to you, and I haven’t just dropped this off at a random person’s door! I’d like to hear what you think of it, too. I hope this isn’t too forward, but maybe we could talk about it over dinner sometime? Text me :)

- Jess


I finished that audiobook quicker than any other I ever listened to in my entire life and I drank up every word. I texted Jess too, and we talked every day. It was so easy to talk to her - maybe the texting aspect helped - but it was as if I’d known her for a long time; it was so easy to bounce off her, to talk for hours and for it to feel like minutes. To fall asleep texting her, even.

I went on the first date of my life not long after. It was sweet - I didn’t expect it to be at my local library, but I appreciated that it was somewhere familiar to me, and it was Jess’ suggestion, anyway - she had a late solo shift organising the shelves and asked if I could bring some pizza and we could make a date out of it. As easy as that.

Jess, made things easier, more effortless, in that my anxiety was much quieter, as if her just being there, close to me, made me calmer.

I knew the audiobooks I listened to couldn’t be wrong. When people like me, anxious and scared of being around people, meet someone else and get into a relationship, then all the anxiety goes away. They help you be better.

The date went great, and soon we went on another. I was elated, and things were great; better than they had been in years. I could sleep better, take better care of myself, and then actually leave the house without too much constant terror buzzing around in my head - like the bees had moved on to another cranial orchard.

That is, until a few weeks later. Jess had invited me to a bar to meet a group of her friends. She was so excited to introduce me to them, even if she didn’t actually say it - I could tell. And while her happiness usually made me happier, this time, it terrified me. As soon as I realised how important this night was to her, the bees found their way back to my brain in abundance. They’re all going to hate you. You’re going to be awkward and do something stupid and Jess is going to be embarrassed to be with you. She’ll break up with you on the spot. Don’t go, you idiot, you’re going to ruin your relationship.

Eventually, even with Jess around, all of the anxious noise was hard to ignore. Even impossible. When the time came to get ready, I just couldn’t do it. Even picking out the clothes I’d planned to wear out of the wardrobe made me burst into tears. In the end, all I could do amidst the crying and shaking and buzzing anxiety was text Jess I’m sorry, I can’t make it, and sit crying in the shower, feeling like I’d ruined everything.

I almost didn’t hear my door knocking over the rush of the water from the shower. But when they knocked again, louder this time, I turned off the shower, hurriedly dried myself, and pulled on some clothes. By the time I got downstairs whoever was at the door was so desperate to see me they were knocking so hurriedly that it almost matched the buzz of worry in my brain.


I was going to hide and pretend I couldn’t hear it, like I was doing in the shower with my anxiety. However, I somehow heard her voice, shouting through the wood of the door and despite how awful I felt, I couldn’t just leave her out there in the cold. I had to open the door.

Contrary to what my anxiety told me, Jess didn’t look angry. She looked worried. Even scared.

‘Oli! God- ‘she said, throwing her arms around me. I pulled her inside and just held her. ‘I was so worried about you - are you okay?!’ It was when she pulled away and the cold hit me again, and it was the tears in her own eyes that made me burst into tears again.

I don’t remember much of what else happened that night, but after I woke up the next morning Jess told me that I basically cried in her arms and told her how terrified I was to meet her friends. When she said that that was normal, I broke down and told her just how much anxiety I felt daily, from every time I left the house, and especially every time I had to interact with people. I told her about the bees, and how I’d been doing okay lately, but was really struggling and embarrassed to tell her, for fear of me losing her completely.

‘That’s the thing that hurt the most,’ said Jess, as she put a cup of tea down in front of me in my kitchen. ‘That you felt like you couldn’t be honest with me, and that if you were, that you’d lose me.’

I started to say something, but she stopped me. ‘No, you don’t need to say anything. You haven’t upset me. I’m just sorry you felt that way, and that I wasn’t able to help you.’

‘But you have,’ I said. ‘You held me all night last night, and ever since I met you it’s been so much better. You helped me be better.’

Jess shook her head, a soft smile on her face. ‘Oh, Oli.’

‘What?’ I asked, confused.

‘I didn’t help you be better. You helped yourself. Whether I was around or not, you still did things that meant you felt better.’

‘Oh,’ I said, realising that she was right. Sure, I showered more and took better care of myself because she was around. But I still took better care of myself. Me.

‘Yeah, and by the way, none of what happened last night would ever make me want to break up with you. I care about you Oli, and I know things seemed magically better for a while, but sometimes they get better and bad again and then better, and it’s no -one’s fault. Whatever happens, I’m going to be here for you. We’ll get through everything together, me and you. But don’t forget all of the stuff that you do, too.’ Jess said, before squeezing my hand and sending that same amazing warmth through me. Even though I still felt terrible after all of the crying, and I had felt better for a while before, this was the first time in a long time that I actually felt hopeful. That I could do this, bad days and all. I wanted to say all of this to Jess, there and then, over a cup of tea, but what ended up coming out in a jumble of words was -


‘Thank you, Jess. I will. I love you.’

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