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Monophobia

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    I’m never alone.

    “Is this how you two work?”

    Never.

    “Sabrina, find a new friend. Seriously.”

    Although I’ve cycled through a couple friendships during my life, my current one has both lasted the longest and awarded me with the most fulfillment. Every waking moment, I’m with someone. Nowadays, more often than not, that person is Chloé.

    Questions such as “How can you stand her?” and “Geez, is she always that bad?” have become less frequent over the years, as my classmates have learned to accept our relationship and let us be, perhaps because they wish to distance themselves from Chloé. Occasionally, people ask questions pertaining to my friendship with Chloé. And my answers are always the same.

    “Ugh!” Chloé says, cramming her worksheet into her folder. “This day has been awful!”

     I squeeze her shoulder. She was right, the day had not been kind to her. During history, our class began a group project, and Chloé was partnered with Myléne and Nathaniel.

     “Oh, fantastic,” I'd overheard her snarl. “I'm stuck with an unmotivated, stupid pansy who makes bad fanfic and a girl scared of her own shadow probably because her shadow has an even more atrocious fashion sense.”

     “I'm sorry, Chloé,” I say, patting her shoulder. “Going home and relaxing I'll help you feel better.”

     “It better,” Chloé mutters, rubbing her temples. “Jean Troque promised he'd give me a manicure after school. Ugh, I need Advil.”

     “Hey, Sabrina, hold on!” someone behind me said

     “Hmm?” I release Chloé’s shoulder as Alix steals my attention.

     “Alix?” I say as she leaves her table. “Do you need me to do something else for our project?”

     “Kinda,” Alix says. “Can we talk?”

     I glance at Chloé, “Uh, but Chloé and I were-”

     “It'll only take a sec.”

     “Sabrina’s very busy tonight,” Chloé snaps, clicking her fingernails against the table. “Go away.”

     “You go away,” Alix says. “I'm sure you have pressing matters to attend to. What, is your hair a hot mess again?

     “You can't talk to me like that, Kubdel. I'll-”

     “It's okay, Chloé. I'll catch up with you ASAP,” I say.

     “Fine,” Chloé says, scowling at Alix. “But hurry up. My work won't do itself, you know.”

     I follow Alix into the hallway. When she stops walking, I nearly crash into her.

     “Alix?”

     “Why on Earth do you put up with her?”

     “What?”

     “You know what I mean,” she says, facing me. “Why do you let her walk all over you?”

     The last person to ask me such a thing was Marinette a few months ago, and an incarnation of my usual response naturally leaps from my mouth. “Oh, Chloé’s not that bad once you get to know her. I don’t mind.”

     “‘She’s not that bad once you get to know her?’” she says, her voice rising. “Sabrina, don’t you realize like 70% of our class, ourselves included, have gotten akumatized ‘cause of her?”

    “Oh, that’s not her fault,” I say. “You know, people have confronted her about that before, and she says--and I agree--people need to stop being so sensitive. Us getting akumatized was our fault. Like Miss Bustier says, we shouldn’t let small issues create overwhelming negative emotions.”

    “Sabrina, nothing she’s ever done has been ‘minor’”. Alix scrunches up her face before relaxing and exhaling. “Aren’t you bothered she treats you like a slave? Didn’t France kick that in the head in, like, the 1840s?”

    “Alix, I’m not her slave. I’m friends with her consentually. Don’t you think I would’ve severed all ties with her if I was forced into slave labor?”

    “But doesn’t she make you do her homework all the time? You know, while we were working on our project, you were clearly exhausted. We had a lot of homework yesterday. I can’t imagine doing double that load of work. Don’t you realize once she’s had enough of you, she’ll leave you crying in a ditch?”

    I shift my weight and adjust the strap of my school bag, gazing vacantly at the floor before staring at Alix, sweeping hair out of my face, and say, “Why exactly are you confronting me with this now? You’ve had, umm….” I adjust my glasses and smile. “Five or six years.”

    “Sabrina--”

    “Chloé and I started hanging out in elementary school, and you didn’t say anything,” I say mildly. “You and Nathaniel just decided you didn’t like Chloé and quit talking to us.”

    “Yeah, ‘cause she treated everyone like filth,” Alix spat, flushing. “She still does. I dunno who peed in her Cheerios this morning, but she was in an appalling mood today. Myléne was just about in tears today at lunch after history, and Nath looked pretty darn close to crying, too. You know as well as I do they’ll probably end up doing at least 80% of their group’s work. And that’s a conservative estimate.”

    “Your concern for Chloé’s group and I is touching, Alix,” I say, my smile somewhat stiff. “Would you like to come to Chloé’s with me? We could work on our project together.”

    “I...no thanks. I’ve gotta--”

    “I’m not stupid, Alix.”

    “Huh? I didn’t say--”

    “I know I’m not basking in friends or popularity,” I say. “But Chloé’s my best and only friend. I know I was indecisive and hapless in early elementary school, but I’ve changed. I know what I’m doing. Besides….”

    “What?”

    “No offense, Alix, but I never felt anything powerful when I hung out with you or Nathaniel in elementary school. You guys were fine, but I didn’t get anything out of our relationship, neither did you or Nathaniel. But with Chloé…. She and I are always around each other.” My stiff grin melts into a genuine smile. My eyes likely bright and glossy, I say, “I’ve been called ‘clingy’ by other people, but never by her. I attend to her when she needs me, and she buys me gifts. She’s the longest-lasting friend I’ve ever had. I don’t see why I’d want to change anything. And, Alix,” I brush past Alix, jostling her arm as I brush against it. “I feel like you’re more interested in vilifying Chloé than supporting me.”

    “Sabrina….” Alix’s clenched hands relax and fall to her side. She sighs. “She’s--”

    “Later, Alix,” I say, pushing up my glasses. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

                                                                                                                                        ᇫᇫᇫ

 

    “My group sucks, Sabrina,” Chloé says as I copy my math solutions onto her paper. “They’re both idiots who have no idea how to keep eye contact with me during a conversation. You should’ve been in my group.”

    “I wish I am,” I say, finishing Chloé’s homework, my handwriting identical to hers. Since I’d been doing her homework for years, my imitation of her handwriting is flawless.

    “Here, Chloé,” I say, giving her her math worksheet.

    “Hmm,” she says, examining the paper. “Just sine, cosine, and tangent stuff, right?”

    “Yep.”

    “Huh. Easy enough.” She tosses the paper onto a table before glancing at me. “Sabrina, it’s 7:30. Shouldn’t you be heading home now?”

    “Oh, um...”

    “Mademoiselle is right,” Chloé’s butler says from by the door. “Your family will be expecting you for dinner, Mademoiselle Raincomprix. Shall I escort you to the door?”

    “Oh, I, uh--” I drag my fingers through my hair.

    “You can’t stay overnight, Sabrina,” Chloé says. “Go home.”

    “Oh, um...” I clear my throat. “Alright. Bye, Chloé.”

    Jean-Jacques extends me his arm, and I clutch it, licking my lips. He escorts me to the door. I release him, and he bows. “Farewell, Mademoiselle Raincomprix.”

    “Bye,” I say somewhat hoarsely.

    As I walk home, I keep one hand on my phone, ready to respond if it buzzes. Although darkness is seeping into the sky, pedestrians thread through the crowd. I flinch as someone brushes past me.

    What’s wrong with you? Walking home isn’t that hard.You aren’t alone.

    Alix.

    “Don’t you realize once she’s had enough of you, she’ll leave you crying in a ditch?”

    Shut up. Shut up!

    Chloé won’t ditch you.

    I’m not an idiot, nor am I deaf. I’ve heard students all around school curse and insult Chloé from within the confines of their friendship circles. I’ve overheard a number of comments about me, expressions of wasted pity on me, even labeled me with a few choice adjectives of their own.

    If Chloé left me, I’d have no one.

    I clumsily swipe away sweat on my forehead as irrational fears flood my mind.

    I’m just a few blocks away from home and my family. I quicken my pace, my breath bursting in and out of my lungs. I’m not running, yet my heart rate is spiking and dizziness threatens to overpower my balance.

    Almost home….

    I trip on a crack in the sidewalk.

    I shriek as I throw my hands out to catch myself. I jerk my hand holding my phone out of my bag, unclasping the bag and spilling its contents onto the sidewalk.

    A couple people stare at me as I scoop up my materials, my fingernails scraping against the asphalt. A woman approaches me, noticing my quivering hands, but I’m already on my unsteady feet again with my things clutched to my chest.

   I’m both sprinting and choking on bile forming in my constricted throat.

   Almost home, almost home!

   I can’t see clearly; my glasses are crooked and tears cloud my vision. I’m perfect prey for anyone or anything interested in, in--

   Murderers. Robbers...Akumas.

   RUN.

   I exhale when I more or less slam against the door of my home. Dropping my school items, I fumble to locate my house key within my pocket. They slip out of my convulsing fingers, and I yank them off the ground before clumsily jamming into the keyhole.

   Nearly falling face-first into my home, I slam open the door.

   My mother jumps as the door bangs against the door stopper. “Welcome home, Sa--Sabrina? Are you okay?”

   I’m panting as I gather my dropped supplies. Once I’ve collected my things, I lean against the wall, utilizing breathing techniques Miss Bustier practices with us each morning.

   “I’m okay. Much better now,” I say once my breathe and heart rate are stable.

   “Oh…it’s okay, ‘Brina, you aren’t alone now,” my mom says, hugging me. “Yes, sweetie, breathe. You’re okay.”

   I return her embrace, inhaling the scent of her perfume, a cooking casserole in the oven, and the subtle, subtle, aroma of flowers in the windowsille.

   I’m not alone.

   I’m at my best, most healthiest when I’m with company: Chloé, my family, or anyone else at school. I’m never alone. Never.

   I can’t be.