Prompt text: Your protagonist is inexplicably terrified of something. What are they afraid of and how are they confronting it?

“How do you like your iPad?”

The question startled me, and I raised my finger from the screen far earlier than I intended.  On the display the yellow bird flipped impotently to the ground in front of the sling shot.  I scrunched my mouth up into a bit of a grimace before hitting the reset button and looking up to see who my interrogator was.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to mess up your game,” the server said shyly.

She stood maybe 5’6″.  Her hair was short and brown , maybe coming to a stop just below her chin if it were down.  Today she had it up in a ponytail, revealing a star tattooed on her neck just below her left ear.  The star was composed of blue lines, the interior fill a bright yellow.  A small silver stud was in her left earlobe.

“No, that’s ok,” I said.  The reassurance made her smile, broadly with a hint of very white teeth below a button nose.  She had almond colored eyes that looked almost comically large, what I sometimes thought of as anime eyes.  She had the demeanor that compelled you to smile at her no matter what your mood was before she spoke.

I had crushed on her for the better part of a year since I started coming to the pub.  And I had not had the courage to say more than the words “Hello” and “Goodbye” to her on any occasion.

I suddenly realized that I had just been staring at her and she just smiling back.  My brain worked overtime to try and string together something intelligible in English.  “Yeah, uh….” I felt a blush starting on the back on my neck and it rapidly spread until I felt like my whole face was aflame.  “I’ve had this one only a few months, but I’ve had one since they first came out.”

“You must be a big techie,” she replied.  “I see you in here all the time with your laptop writing.”  She had her order pad in her right hand, and she set it down as gestured with the left towards me.  I sat confused for a moment before realizing she was asking to hold the tablet.  I handed it over to her, and just sat looking at her.  My right cheek felt like it was starting to spasm and I found myself reaching up to tout my face, trying to make the twitching stop and finding nothing moving.

She took the tablet and laughed a bit as she saw what was on the screen.  “I love this game, I have it on my phone.”  She touched the screen and I heard the sound effect indicating she was lining up a shot.  Her finger raised from the display and the iPad uttered a muffled yelp as another Angry Bird flew to its eventual target.

The speakers gave back audio feedback that she had successfully hit something, but her mouth scrunched up in a fashion similar to how mine was when she first spoke.  She handed the tablet back to me, still beaming that overpowering smile.  I tried to return it and felt the corners of my mouth slowly rise, as though my face were made of molded plastic trying to change shape.  The more I tried to smile, the worse it felt and I eventually gave up trying.

I was uncertain or unaware of what kind of face I was making, but it seemed to be a negative one as her smile faded and she shifted awkwardly on her feet.  She grabbed her order pad, and started to turn away.  “Well, sorry to bother you…”

In the back of my head a voice angrily yelled Don’t let her go, you jackass!

“No!” I said, almost to forcefully.  She turned back towards me, looking slightly confused.  I tried to smile again, and it must have looked more real, as she returned it tenfold.  I tried to think of something to say.

“I’m sorry, it’s just…” Panic threatened to start rising again when a chirp from the game caught my attention.  “I just am having a really hard time with this level.  I can’t quite figure out how to clear this screen.”

Her posture relaxed and she cocked one hand on her hip.  “I know what you mean! I find I’m playing some of these screens for hours trying to get three stars on it.”  That she enjoyed the game so openly made me feel safer, and I could feel my body, which had been locked rigid since I became aware of her presence, started to relax slightly.  Something in my head clicked, and suddenly the words just started rolling out of my mouth.”

“Yeah I love the iPad because it’s not as bulky as my old laptop but since I went to a slimmer computer, I find I split my time more evenly between the two,” I told her.  “It’s just not entirely comfortable for me typing on the screen in the same way it is on a full keyboard.”

“Huh,” she said, looking at the tablet again as it sat on the table between us.  I reached down and closed the game out, bringing up the notepad to a blank page and turning it back towards her.  She put her pad down again and reached forwards with both hands.  She looked studiously at the keyboard, almost as though she thought there might be some trick to getting it just right.  She began to type, almost immediately going to the backspace key and making corrections constantly.

I laughed.  “Yeah, you’re doing just what I did when I first got it,” I told her.  Without looking up at me she laughed, but her focus on the screen intensified.  Almost imperceptibly, her typing quickened and there were fewer efforts to correct anything.  “You do adjust quicker than I do,” I admitted.

I didn’t think it was possible, but her smile broadened even more, lips parting and teeth showing in a victorious grin.  After another minute, she hit the home key and then turned the tablet back towards me.  “I’ve been thinking about getting one, but I’m not sure I want to take the plunge,” she said.  She was now studying the tablet, and I could see something going on behind her eyes.

My phone buzzed on the tabletop, and I picked it up the check the message.  Work was calling me in to help with a project.  As I started texting a response, I asked, “Can I get my check? I’m having to leave earlier than I expected.”

“Oh, ok,” she replied.  My imagination swore I heard disappointment in her voice.  She turned and headed back to the bar to get my check.  I sent my response and as she returned, handed my credit card to her without even looking at the check.  “I’ll be right back,” she said, pivoting quickly back to the bar.  I moved to put my iPad away in my bag, thinking that I hadn’t made a fool of myself but still feeling like I should say or do something.

“Thank you for coming by,” she said as she put the check and card down in front of me.  “And thanks for letting me play with your iPad.”  I smiled as I scrawled my signature on the receipt and jammed the card into my wallet.

“Any time,” I replied.  “If you are still thinking about taking the plunge next time I’m in, and have any other questions, let me know.  I’ll be happy to help.”

She smiled and nodded. “Ok, I will!”  She turned and moved towards one of the tables near the front door.

I bent down to pick up my bag, and then looked again at my receipt.  In the top left corner, above the date and time the check was run, I saw “SARAH” printed.  Mentally, I locked the info away in the back of my mind.  I slung my bag over my shoulder and passed her as I went towards the door.  As she walked past me, she said, “Have a good weekend, Phillip!”

My hold body froze, trying to figure out how she knew my name.  My brain caught up to the fact that it was from the same place where I just got hers.  I turned back to face her.  “You do the same, Sarah!”  She raised her hand, her fingers waving slightly at me.  Then she turned and moved back to the bar.  I watched her go, then left for work.

At the office, I started in on the project, forgetting the day and everything at the pub.  My manager asked about a slide presentation I was working on, and I reached back into my bag to bring my iPad out.  As I unlocked it, I went to the task bar and tried to launch the slide program.  I pressed the notepad app by mistake and was about close the notepad when I saw the last file opened.

There were three lines of random text, I registered it was some a poem or book I’d read once in college.  Below the lines Sarah had typed out:

SARAH
512-577-9810

I made sure to hit save and then opened the slide editor and handed the pad to my boss.  As she took it, she looked at me. “You’re awfully happy for someone working on the weekend,” she said.


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